Wednesday, 31 March 2021

His Boys His Voice - Part 1 - Parting the veil of Maya

 “In this Avatar (Divine Incarnation), the wicked will not be destroyed; they will be corrected and reformed and educated and led back to the path from which they have strayed. The white-ant infested tree will not be cut; it will be saved.” 

Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Mahashivarathri 1955)

Ever since the start of the colleges at Anantapur, Brindavan and Prasanthi Nilayam, Swami started spending increasing amounts of time with His students. On many occasions, He remarked to different people that seventy five percent of His time would be spent for the students. That was evident as Swami poured His time on His students, be it in the interview room, the bhajan hall, the hostel, the institute auditorium, the Trayee sessions or the ‘PC sessions’ (private sessions in the Poornachandra auditorium). Every visionary needs good succession planning to carry on the envisioned mission. Swami’s succession planning can be understood from His shift in emphasis from “My Life is My Message” to “Your Life is My Message”. 

Sri Sathya Sai pulling the cheeks of a little boy
The students were both near and dear to Him.

It appears as if Swami chose the students as the working sample to signal this shift in emphasis

In many private interviews and interactions, Swami told the devotees that His life was His message. It was during the First World Conference, on the 17th of May 1968, that Bhagawan decided to probably publicly announce the same.

“Many of you plead for a 'Message' from Me, to take to the Samithi of which you are members. Well. My life is My message. You will be adhering to My message if you so live that your lives are evidence of the dispassionate quiet, the courage, the confidence, the eagerness to serve those who are in distress, that My life inspires you with.”

And that is why, all His life, He ate as we do, moved about like us, spoke in our languages, behaved in a manner that we recognise and understand - so that we feel kinship with Him and submit ourselves to His alchemical love. His plan is to transmute the seeker of the world into a seeker of Sathya (Truth). However, even as He sang along, spoke and engaged with everyone, He would part the clouds of Maya to reveal His divinity and ultimate objective.

Lord Rama's actual birthplace

The students were blessed with a number of such opportunities of spotting the Divine behind the veil and, at the same time, developing a kinship and friendship with the Universal Sakha. This would happen after the darshan and interview sessions when Swami would come ambling towards the students and interact with them, the teachers and others. These interactions could be casual or formal, jocular or serious but they would always contain profound lessons and insights. For instance, one morning, Swami was speaking to a group of high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Education from the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. In the full view of the students, Swami said,

“All parties have their eyes only on votes but are not genuinely concerned about the welfare of the nation. Everybody wants to be a leader today but no one wants to accept the responsibilities. A leader must lead and not push. But today’s leaders simply push from the back.”

When the torrent of Truth seemed to have subsided, one of the officials mustered the courage to ask Swami about a burning social issue.

“Bhagawan, You must be knowing where Rama Janma Bhoomi (birthplace of Lord Rama) really is, don’t You?”

“Yes! I do”, was the reply. With great excitement and anticipation, the official asked,

“Please tell us then - where is Rama Janma Bhoomi?”

“Where else - it is the womb of Kausalya!” Swami replied with a smile. 

Everyone including the questioner had a smile. It was evident that a nation had forgotten this important Truth and was bickering and fighting over a piece of land. Swami also showed the students that speaking with tact was as important as speaking the Truth. 

Sri Sathya Sai Baba carries a bow like Lord Rama
Who better than Sai Rama to reveal about Rama!

Truth in moments

On another occasion, Swami was speaking to a professor from the MBA department. Then, He turned His attention towards the students and began to speak to them. As He did so, He held the professor’s hand and was playing with the ring he wore. After a few minutes, Swami looked at the professor who said,

“Swami, You only gave that.” (An obvious reference to the ring.)

Pointing to the professor’s body, Swami asked instantly,

“And what about this?”

He then walked off to allow the profundity of what He had casually remarked to seep into the witnesses. Being the embodiment of Sathya, it is hardly surprising that Truth came so naturally to Him. And He used that Truth to constantly chisel the devotee. 

One day, the boys prayed that Swami bless the hostel with His visit. Swami asked,

“Why? What will you give me?”

“We will give ourselves Swami...”

“That you can do here itself. Why go to the hostel?”

“Swami, we will give you whatever you want...”

“Is that so? Then, I want fish sambar!”

All the students started laughing. Swami added,

“Yes! I want ‘fish’ and not ‘selfish’. Fish can at least clear the dirt in water. But selfishness only adds to impurities.”

Many were the ‘excuses’ Swami would give for not going to the hostel. They were only to increase the pining in the students and also shower wisdom through His words. On another occasion when students prayed for the same, Swami said that there was no need for the additional burden of His visit to the hostel when the students had exams. But when the students persisted, Swami called an elderly devotee and told him to drive some sense into the boys.

“Boys! You are now having exams and it will not be right for Swami to come to the hostel now.” Instead of stopping at that, the devotee continued,

“Anyhow, you must develop the feeling that Swami is with you wherever you are.  Else, what is the use?”

Swami now stopped him and asked,

“These boys want to know that if you have already developed that feeling, then why have you come here at all?” 

There was a mild laughter and the devotee presented his defence,

“Swami, what I meant was that I discharge my responsibilities wherever I am with full knowledge of Swami in my heart.”

The Lord doesn’t need clarification on what one meant. He always understands and replies to only what one means irrespective of the language or choice of words. Isn’t He the Bhavapriya? Swami’s reply was meant for everyone.

“Is Swami in your heart or are you in Swami? If I am holding this kerchief in My hand, My hand is bigger than the kerchief. In the same way, if i am in your heart, you are big and I am small.” 

The travel beyond everyone's imagination

There were many such gentle reminders of who He is so that the students remain focussed. On the 13th of October 1992, Swami came to the students and said,

“This afternoon, we got a phone call from Bangalore. Col. Joga Rao has been admitted in the ICU of Apollo Hospital. He is serious and they want Swami to come. Actually, I need not go there to save him. I can do it from here itself. But I am going there to teach you all how to show gratitude. Joga Rao is 86 years old and yet works like a young man. It is My duty to go and see him.”

The students asked when He would return.

“After one year!” 

As the students stared incredulously, Swami smiled and said,

“I will go and come back immediately.”

The next day, rumours ran high regarding Swami’s expected time of departure to Bangalore. But Swami appeared least perturbed as He granted morning and evening darshans as usual. During the bhajans, He revealed,

“Poor boys! They thought that I was going to Bangalore in the morning. They thought that the car would be brought and they would come for morning darshan. But I went to Bangalore last night itself. Within five minutes, I was inside Joga Rao’s room in Apollo. Joga Rao was excited and he said,

“Swami has come - get a chair!” But nobody else could see me. I sat with him the whole night. His blood pressure was fluctuating wildly and so was his pulse. Soon, his pulse stopped and his body became cold. But I revived him though the doctors said he was gone. Good man! He works a lot. He is a Karma Yogi. By morning, he had recovered completely. By 4 am, he started eating normally and wanted to come back to Puttaparthi at once. But I advised him to rest for a couple more days and then return. Swami has cured him.”

Sri Sathya Sai Baba and Colonel Jogarao
Col Jogarao's life was indeed a blessed one

God walking and talking spreads such a magical world of sweetness around, that the devotee hardly bothers about the inner world. Swami’s extended tours, His ever increasing personal involvement in the lives of devotees through many service projects and individual ministrations, His eloquent talks, and of course the incredible miracles flowing from His Presence opened a new era of faith and devotion which mankind had lost in building up a material civilisation. His purity, His simplicity and universality created such an aura around Him that whoever was touched by it felt blessed. He gently showed the scientists and intellectuals that there is a more humbling dimension to human understanding, that omniscience and omnifelicity is a reality, that all the religions have a much greater universal face than we wanted to believe, that the globe can become a single home for the Homo sapiens if we dare to take God’s hand and walk with Him. 

All this He achieved by just being what He was, a very loving, caring, unpretentious God who loved to share our lives. Humanity needed a palpable God, and He was that.

to be continued in Part 2

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Prasanthi Nilayam Is In The Heart

 Another day in the office?

I completed my second day at my new workplace. The 'Dwitiya Vighnam' (obstacle that arises because of not doing something newly started on the second consecutive day) had been cleared in that sense. However, I had a feeling of slight sorrow in my heart. I was missing Puttaparthi. I was missing my Radiosai days which had come to an end on my birthday, the 24th June 2020, when that divine name that Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) had bestowed was replaced with a more corporate 'Sri Sathya Sai Media Centre'. It had taken me 9 months after that day to bid goodbye and the indications which Swami gave me during those months to take the ultimate step can be the subject of another separate post. 

"I will miss you Radiosai"
I will miss you Radiosai. It was divine while it lasted.

My mind wandered to the beautiful days spent in contemplation of Swami and sharing His message and love in the digital dimension to the world at large. I remembered my dear brothers and the wonderful time we spent together under the fatherhood of our Swami.
"It was such a beautiful 13 years Swami. Why did it have to end like this?" I wondered.

I picked up my phone and called a few of my former colleagues. So happy they were for me, encouraging the blogging and vlogging which I had restarted, that I myself wondered what I was feeling bad about!
"It's just your attachment", I told myself, "the very fact that something has happened is proof that Swami wants it that way. Why do you associate Swami with Puttaparthi alone?"

It was 10 pm. It was time to hit the sack. The past few nights before sleeping, I had been reading a chapter from 'God in Action' which is a collection of talks delivered by the revered Prof. Kasturi, Swami's biographer. Today, I thought of a change and had kept aside the book 'Sri Sathya Sai Anandadayi' to read at night. Strangely, the book was missing and was nowhere to be found. That seemed to add to the general low that I was feeling and I decided to go back to just reading another talk by Prof. Kasturi.

He is everywhere

I flipped open the book and went to my bookmark. I turned the page to the next chapter and it read, "He is Everywhere."

The chapter that opened up perfectly for me...

Wow! That little phrase used as the heading was itself enough to make me feel better. As I read on, I realised that this was the perfect antidote for my sad disposition. Prof Kasturi emphasized on the truth that every country in the world and every part of every country was His Prasanthi Nilayam. Just reading that portion made a fraction of Prasanthi (supreme peace) descend in my being. Then, to elucidate further, Prof Kasturi narrated an incident of a lady devotee from Kerala. Most probably, the incident is set in the 1980s. 

Though she was devoted to Swami, her son wasn't and he often made fun of Swami. In due course, he got married to a girl who was also devoted to Swami and the couple shifted to Calcutta (Kolkata today) where the husband's workplace was. Over time, the son was frustrated with his job. Piling on his misery was the accusation of fund-misappropriation that was cast on him by the office. Totally defeated and dejected, he left a message for his wife,
"Please don't wait for me. I shall not be coming home."

Then, he decided to commit suicide. The worried wife immediately called up her mother-in-law, the boy's mother and informed her of the bizarre message. Not knowing what else to do, the mother wrote a letter, unburdening all her fears and worries to Swami. She placed the letter under Swami's photograph which was on her altar. Her faith and feelings instantly converted her home into Prasanthi Nilayam and the photograph into Swami! 

Back in Calcutta, the son was simply not able to take his life. He lacked the courage to attempt a few methods and always had a worry at the back of his head that in case his attempt failed, he would be jailed by the police as an attempt to take one's own life would be considered a crime. Thus, he spent the whole day trying to die but was simply 'not allowed to'. When he climbed the Howrah Bridge to jump into the gushing waters below, he clearly heard a voice which said,

"Don’t jump. Don’t die. Come to me. Come to Puttaparthi."

The perfect sync of the lad's story with mine

The son was now convinced that going to Puttaparthi alone would solve his problem. His focus on Puttaparthi was much greater than his focus on Swami Himself! He later told Prof. Kasturi that he could not sleep in the train nor think of anything else except Puttaparthi. In fact, when the wheels of the train were moving, he could hear, “Puttaparthi! Puttaparthi! Puttaparthi!” 

He got down from the train at Bangalore and went to the ticket clerk and asked for a ticket to Penukonda (from where he would take a bus to travel to Puttaparthi). The clerk asked him, "Why are you going to Puttaparthi? Sathya Sai Baba is here in Whitefield." This was because the Summer Course was on and Swami was in the Bangalore Ashram. But the lad insisted on going to Puttaparthi only! Realizing it was futile to reason with him, the clerk issued him a ticket to Penukonda. 

I paused reading the story at this point because something hit me in my face. I began to relate strongly with this son and my situation was no different from his. I was so obsessed with Puttaparthi that it seemed to have become a greater focus than Swami Himself! By divine 'coincidence' my new workplace was just beside Swami's Ashram at Whitefield! AND the company employing me was 'Sai Lakshmi Industries'. That is not all. Swami had physically visited the office premises more than a dozen times.

Swami then delivered the 'knockout punch' when Prof Kasturi suddenly revealed that the son's name was - hold your breath - Arvind

I froze. Indeed, why was Arvind more obsessed with Puttaparthi than Swami? 

The name of the lad in the story!

Swami's compassion

Prof Kasturi chronicles the Lord's compassion on Arvind. Exactly on the same day that Arvind travelled to Puttaparthi, Swami, who was in Whitefield, suddenly travelled to Puttaparthi (where Prof. Kasturi was), reaching there at 6:30 pm. Everyone, including Prof. Kasturi and Sri Kutumba Rao rushed up to Him and sought the reason for Swami’s unscheduled arrival. Swami said that He had come to take a few bags of rice to Bangalore for the Summer Course. Musing on this, the professor states that there was no reason why this little task couldn't have been assigned to anyone else. But then, it was not for the ‘rice’ that Swami was going; it was for Arvind's ‘rise’! 

The next morning, this man, Arvind, was in the darshan lines. Swami walked up to him and said, 

“Ay Calcutta! Go in!”

In the interview room, Swami chided him.

“What is this foolish thing you have done? Do you know the feeling of your mother and wife? I will see that nothing happens to you. I will get you transferred. You need not go back.”

Swami then told him that He would be going back to Whitefield. 

“But you stay back for 9 days before travelling out of Puttaparthi”, He instructed.

Swami’s Divine plan was wonderful. Arvind had very little money and so, he sent a telegram to his friend in Delhi asking for money, giving his address as “Arvind, Big Shed, Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi.” In the meanwhile, the mother and wife were in anxiety and gloom and had called all known friends to enquire about Arvind’s whereabouts. The friend in Delhi who received the telegram immediately called and informed the mother and wife who travelled as soon as possible to Puttaparthi. In 9 days time, Arvind was happy, his family was happy and everything had transformed for the better. 

The collection of Prof. Kasturi's talks.
His love for Ar(a)vind

It became difficult to read any more with the tears blurring my vision. I have experienced Swami strike 2 birds with one stone of grace. This was yet another such occasion where the ‘birds’ had the same name and were separated by decades. That is Swami’s infinite love and omnipotence. 

My wife and mother too had gone through so much anxiety and gloom on account of me being low for 9 months in a row. And I felt Swami was directly telling me, an Aravind from 3 decades later, the same thing He had told Arvind,

““What is this foolish thing you have done? Do you know the feeling of your mother and wife? I will see that nothing happens to you. I will get you transferred. You need not go back.”

With joy and gratitude oozing from my heart, I looked forward to my third day in my new workplace gifted by Swami. 

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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! 

Saturday, 12 January 2019

How I got wedded to Sathya Sai for life...

Footprints in the Sand?
Early into my teens, I had read the famous story of the footprints in the sand. For those who are not familiar with it, let me recall it briefly. A person dreams about his life as a walk with God on a beach. He therefore notices two sets of footprints in the sand. But to his dismay, he sees only one set of footprints in those parts of the beach which represent the most difficult times in his life. He asks God,
"Why did you abandon me when I needed you the most?"God replies lovingly"Child! Those times when you see only one set of footprints are actually the times when I carried you!"
In spite of knowing this story, there were times when I was convinced that I was absolutely alone in life. And I felt that the single set of footprints were definitely not of His lotus feet, but of my own weary soles! I prayed to God,"Swami, I just do not believe that you are carrying me now for I feel so much pain and depression. Is that how one feels when one is carried?"
This is the story of the speech of my life... the story of my life with Sai in fact! 
The setting
This happened many times but like the proverbial passing clouds, everything would soon clear and days would get brighter. But then came the mammoth cloud, so huge that I felt this time the clouds were there to stay! It is about this 'climactic' period which I was made to weather that this story is all about. More than anything else,  this episode seasoned my life with the realization of God's omnipresence and Swami's (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) love for me.
It was when I was doing my Masters programme in Chemistry at Puttaparthi that Swami gifted us students with opportunities to put up programs in His Divine Presence. These programs were mostly in the form of speeches (compilation of His teachings), spiced up here and there with songs, skits and dances. Some programs were based on special events while some others were actually Swami's special way of teaching some important lessons to us. Swami's encouragement was tremendous, so much so, that on one occasion I remember Him telling our warden,
"Why should I come and sit outside? There is no program today!"
And so, in that academic year alone, we had put up about fifteen program. In fact, it was Swami's enthusiasm towards us that ignited the large number of programs that were presented (and continue to be presented) in the divine Presence by various Indian states and other countries during their respective Parthi Yatras or pilgrimages. This was the setting for my life-changing episode.
Sorrows and disappointments galore...
Since I love public speaking and was involved in dramatics, I was often part of every cultural program that was being presented to Swami. I was doing well on the academic front and I was quite popular among my friends in the hostel. I did fairly well in games and was the shuttle badminton champion for that year. Why I am telling all this is just to show that one may seem to have everything in life and still be unhappy. My God! Why was I unhappy?
When I think back today, I cannot put a finger on the exact reason but I used to be very sad most of the times. And the major reason for this was my attachment to friends.What do I mean by that? Well, I thought that I was a fast friend to quite a few people. I went out of my way to help them and make them feel special. That was fine. The problem came when I expected them to treat me in the same way - that too in a manner I was expecting them to! And this expectation was very very strong. As a result, I used to feel very bad.
At this time, I decided that since God was my only true friend, I would look to Him for solace and support. I wanted to extend my arm of unconditional friendship to Him and wanted Him to extend His. I began to curb all my feelings and interactions with friends as much as possible and confided everything to Sai,the resident of my heart - my joys and sorrows, my successes and defeats. This came as a relief but still the disappointments and hurts from my friends continued.
(Today I know that it is not anyone's fault. The nature of the world is thus and the nature of the mind is thus! Nobody will ever understand me fully! How can they when they do not read my mind?)
Life went on this way and I am sure many of my friends wondered what on earth was I sad about. And I myself had no answer. The sadness was deep within and it was a kind of dissatisfaction in the search for some permanence.
Meanwhile in the mandir, speeches, songs and programmes by the students were on regularly. I even got two chances to speak in Swami's presence. They were like bright spots in the dark skies but I was in search of my sun - Swami as my dearest friend. One day, Swami asked in the mandir,
"Are there any boys who wish to speak?"
I raised my hand and warden told Swami that I was prepared. When I went ahead to take his blessings, I overheard Him ask the warden,
"Aren't there any other boys? This boy alone speaks always!"
That made me feel very bad. I was hurt. I gave my speech that day but resolved never to raise my hand to speak in His presence. I told my Swami in the heart,
"This is the last time I'll raise my hand. I extended my hand in friendship to you and you do not want me to speak in your presence!"
A childish reaction indeed, but that was what I felt then.

Monday, 24 December 2018

The Second Coming - Jesus Christ and Sri Sathya Sai Baba

An artist's impression of the second coming of Jesus Christ
Christianity is a fascinating religion in many ways. One of the special things about Christianity is that a lot of it is derived through the writings of the apostles of Christ. The religion offers the aspirant different perspectives or views of the same master, Jesus Christ, through the eyes of many. Thus, we have the Gospel according to Mark, Gospel according to Matthew, Gospel according to John and so on. Each is the Truth in itself and we battling by quoting one against the other would be akin to blind men fighting over their respective descriptions of the elephant!

Munde Munde Matir Bhinnah”, says my Master and Lord, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. In spirit, this translates into ‘there are as many interpretations of the Truth as there are heads’ because everyone is allowed an opinion. And so, when I read through the description and interpretation of the same master through ‘different heads’, rather than get confused and upset at things that do not match my perspective and opinions, I celebrate the grand diversity and beauty of the Master. The Master’s concern is always for the individual and therefore, there are as many ways to God as there are individuals. The Master allows the aspirant to seek a path most suited for him/her to progress spiritually. Thus, I try to enjoy the perspectives and interpretations for none of them are wrong - all are right in their own sense because, ultimately, there is only One Truth and nothing else.

Among the different things I was reading, one subject that interested me tremendously was that of the second coming of Christ. Why did that interest me? Simple. I would love it if God were to come on earth in physical frame once again! I have been blessed to have enjoyed the proximity of dear Swami and I know how wonderful, holy, elevating, uplifting, sanctifying and fun Divine company can be.

{By the way, my notion that the 24th April 2011 (Easter Sunday) is a day of Swami's‘departure’ was shattered through a miraculous experience that happened exactly a year later - on the 24th of April, 2012. Swami showed that it is a day to mark His ‘arrival’ into our homes and heart(h)s!}

You just have to search the term, “The Second Coming” on the internet and, in a span of seconds, you will see nearly a billion results hit your computer screen! That should suffice to say that it is an intensely debated and discussed topic. There are interpretations galore. So abundant were the interpretations offered that I decided to go to the actual Christian ‘Book of Revelation’, the final book of the New Testament, credited to the apostle, John. Again, there are so many versions and I referred to the King James’version of the Bible, chapter 19. What I found there simply thrilled my heart. The reference to the descent of the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” was so wonderful.

And here, I shall present these as stated in the Bible along with my interpretation and understanding. (The relevant passages from the Revelations have been presented in bold.)

19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba as the Second Coming - an impression
of the artist
- Alexander Prowse

According to the Hindu concept of time and ages, God incarnates from age to age to establish righteousness on earth. In the present Kali age, the incarnation is that of Kalki, a Kshatriya riding a white horse. The similarity of the description struck me and I remembered that one of the photographs Swami materialized was of Himself riding a spotlessly white horse! Many artists and painters have depicted Him that way too! Also, "faithful and true" indeed seems like a translation of the word "Sathya".

Swami indeed is here, waging a war - a war like one that the world has never seen before. Just like a buffalo imagines God to be a large buffalo, we imagine war to be one with destruction and demolition. But Swami says that the weapon He has come armed with is that of Love. As He revealed during His Shivarathri 1955 discourse

In this Avatar, the wicked will not be destroyed, they will be corrected, reformed and educated and led back to the path from which they have strayed. The white ant infested tree will not be cut: it will be saved.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

What is the distance between God and devotee?

The elephant's discovery

The legend of Gajendra, the elephant king, from the 8th Skanda of the Bhagavatha Purana offers us a very interesting answer to how far God is away from us. The story goes that the bull elephant, a devotee of Lord Vishnu, once entered the waters of a cool lake on Mount Trikuta. A crocodile which lived in the same lake caught him by the leg and began to drag him into the deeper parts of the lake. Gajendra fought with all his might but a crocodile's strength in the water is ten times greater than its strength on land! As Gajendra was dragged in, he began to fight with all his might. Legend goes that the battle went on for a thousand years at the end of which, Gajendra trumpeted in pain and helplessness until he was hoarse.

Then, he remembered his Lord and called out to Maha Vishnu. Instantly, Vishnu arrived on His mount, Garuda, decapitated the crocodile with the Sudarshana Chakra (the discus) and liberated Gajendra.

The moment Gajendra called out to his Lord, Maha Vishnu was there in a trice.

As long as Gajendra fought on, Vishnu watched on, respecting the elephant-king's choice to use his own strength. But the moment he surrendered, Vishnu was there in a trice. That story teaches us that God is just as far as our call can reach! That was the discovery of a little boy too. Amey Deshpande realized that, 
no matter what, his God, his Swami is always within earshot of his cries.

Shattered pride

Amey was devoted to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba since his birth as he was born into a family devoted to Swami. He was enrolled into the Bal Vikas classes and he became a role model for all the other children - He would sit straight for hours, chant all the shlokas and mantras, participate in bhajans and play the tabla. Such was the praise heaped on the child by the elders that he sincerely felt that he was several cuts above the rest when it came to discipline if not devotion!

In 1984, as a 5-year old, Amey came on a pilgrimage to Prasanthi Nilayam, the abode of supreme peace. Like Amey's understanding of Swami, Prasanthi too was very different back then. The schedule revolved entirely around Swami's routine. The most sought-after times were the Darshan times when Bhagawan would gently walk, nay glide through the seated devotees, ladies on one side and gents on the other. He would speak to a few, take letters from some others and call the lucky ones for an 'interview'. An 'interview' was not a Q&A session though it could be that also. It was a personal interaction between the devotee and Swami in the interview room where healing, transformation, miracles and counselling took place.

His Boys His Voice - Part 1 - Parting the veil of Maya

  “In this Avatar (Divine Incarnation), the wicked will not be destroyed; they will be corrected and reformed and educated and led back to t...