Monday, 6 May 2013

When selfishness disguises itself as selflessness

Selfishness is a master chameleon
There is no limit to the extents to which
selfishness can go...

It was during my summer vacations when this episode occurred in the Garden City of India, Bangalore (now called Bengaluru). More than anything else, the incident showed me how subtle are the ways of selfishness. It is a master chameleon which can disguise itself even as the noblest of feelings. It is so convincing in its act that one readily turns a blind eye to it and acknowledges it as the noble emotion or thought that it is trying to impersonate. At its subtlest best, selfishness dons the vesture of selflessness with such elan and grace that it actually elicits prayers and efforts from the victim to achieve its ignoble ends!
I was then a student in the undergraduate at the Brindavan Campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. Among the 3 campuses of the Institute at Brindavan, Puttaparthi and Ananthapur, the students of the Brindavan campus were the luckiest in the summer months because the Chancellor of their University, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, whom they lovingly called Swami, would stay at the ashram in Brindavan. And being a student of the final year undergraduate class, I would be among the special one-third of the campus to get a chance to sit in the front rows for darshan and bhajan sessions (prayer sessions). Thus, like every other final-year student, I eagerly looked forward for the summer sessions.
There is another magical thing that happened when Swami visited Brindavan - the Trayee sessions! These were times when Baba would call all the students into the large hall under His single-room residence and interact with them. (The building there is called Trayee Brindavan and hence the name for the sessions.) There would be discourses by Swami, devotional songs sung by the students, a quiz contest, a bhajan session - just about anything. Nobody could predict what would happen in a Trayee session. Swami had arrived to Brindavan and had started granting Trayee sessions after the evening bhajans on a daily basis. This was something the brought joy to everyone among the staff and students who were lucky to be called in daily.

A wonderful time

Thus began my summer on a happy note. Adding to the joy was the fact that lady-luck decided to side with me! On a continuous basis, when it came to the lines/queues going into Trayee Brindavan for the session, I always seemed to pick a token number 1 or 2. In this way, for almost 5 days in a row, I got a chance to sit in the front, very close to Swami’s jhoola (ornamental swing) during the sessions.
This was such a joyous privilege. Sitting at the Master’s feet was such an enthralling experience. Seeing Him from so close in itself gave me gooseflesh. And what should I say about the chance to massage His feet in loving Padasevanam! (Actually Swami has given an entirely new meaning of the term Padasevanam as described in another article.)
I remember one evening very vividly. I was gently massaging Swami’s calf muscles. I was being very gentle and tender in my massage. His legs felt so delicate and feminine. I was thinking, “Swami! No wonder you have Goddess Lakshmi massaging your feet in Vaikuntha (abode of Lord Vishnu). You need very delicate hands to do the massage because your legs are so delicate.”
Even as this thought crossed my mind, Swami looked at me and said,
“Massage a bit harder. Like this...”
And He showed it with His hands too. He seemed to squeeze the imaginary muscles in His hand and twist them in opposite directions, the way we do while wanting to dry a dripping towel! I was taken aback. But I did as He said, gently though. He again looked at me and told me to do it harder. Now I increased the pressure. One more look and Swami said,
“Do it harder. Have you not had any food?”
This time I thought,
“Okay Swami! You asked for it!”

I wrung His calf muscles with all the strength I could muster. I was half expecting a shriek of pain. But nothing like that happened. I looked up at Swami and He was sitting comfortably on the jhoola, seemingly enjoying the talk by a teacher that was going on. I now increased the pressure till my breaking point. My forearms began to ache with the effort. The ‘tender’ muscles of His calf were being squished into pulp I thought. The pressure was such that I would surely not have been able to bear to do it to my own ‘stronger’ calf muscles.
But Swami did not budge or flinch a bit! In fact, when my arms began to ache after 10 minutes and I reduced the pressure, He looked at me and taunted,
“Tired? Do you wish to be replaced? Massage harder...”
Who would want to lose that opportunity and be replaced? But there is a limit for my physical strength right? His Divine power, on the other hand, is limitless! I learned my lesson. Instead of thinking stupid thoughts, I continued the massaging with all my love and humility. Swami’s demands for greater pressure immediately ceased.
With Swami that is the case always - once the message is learned, the messenger instantly ceases to exist!
These were the kinds of chances and experiences that one receives during Trayee Sessions. And so, now the reader can easily imagine why it was such a beautiful time for me and all the other students as well.

The selfish gene

It is almost as if we have a selfish gene in our constitutions that awaits a chance to express itself. And it seems to succeed on quite a regular basis. One day, after a long time, my token number turned out to be the last in the queues that go into Trayee Brindavan. I was very disappointed. I just could not bear the thought of being seated so far away from the jhoola where Swami sits. I would be so far that I would not be able to even hear whatever Swami speaks. (There would be no mikes kept for Swami unless He was delivering formally, a discourse.) Who knows, I might be seated so back that unless I craned my neck, I might not be able to even see Him! My disappointment grew as we made our way into the Sai Ramesh hall for the evening darshan and bhajan session after which would be the coveted Trayee Session.
As I sat for bhajans, I recollected the beautiful days that had passed so far. Five days of physical proximity to Swami out of which I had got the chance to massage His feet on three occasions. (“And today, it would be all over” squeaked the selfish gene from one corner of my head). Swami too had continuously granted one Trayee Session after another. (“Will He not be tired? Should He not get some rest” spoke the selfish gene in my head. But this time, it had already attired itself in the costumes of nobility and concern!

“Yes, Swami needs to take a break and have some rest”, I thought, “He is continuously giving one Trayee session after another. Swami, take a break. Take some rest.”
At that time, I did not realize what extremes of selfishness I was indulging in. It was the case of me not wanting anyone else to get a wonderful evening if I would not be having it! But at that time, I felt I was being so noble and sensitive in my thoughts. Such was selfishness’ disguise and such was my foolishness, that I actually began to pray,
“Swami, there is no need for Trayee session today. You can take some rest. How much do you want to keep slogging for all of us...”
“Ay! That is selfishness”, a strong voice from my heart came up.
“How can it be?” the head questioned, “Is it selfishness to think about Swami’s comfort? You are only doing something that nobody else is doing. It is very noble.”
This kind of dialogue of the heart vs the head is a common feature for all of us. Well, the heart is known by other names as well - the voice of wisdom, conscience etc. As the head said, I was indeed doing something that nobody else was doing. And today I know that it was definitely not noble!
Since selflessness brings us all good, is not being selfless true selfishness? :)
Let us all be Self-ish in this true manner...
The veil is lifted
The ways in which the Lord works are strange. But they always have a purpose. To my delight then, on that day, Swami did not call for a Trayee Session! We were informed that there would be no session and that we could return to the hostel. My inner being rejoiced. I felt that a noble prayer is always answered - just as mine had been moments before.
Since I was part of the audio-visual team, the AVC department, in Brindavan, I went to roll the microphone wires and cables. About 8 microphones each would be used by the ladies’ and gents’ bhajan groups and we had to roll up all the cables and wind up things neatly. The storage room was backstage, within the compound wall of Swami’s Trayee Brindavan. As I entered the AVC room to stow away the microphones, I noticed some movement at the Trayee Brindavan entrance door.
Soon, I came to know that a mistake had apparently been made. A wrong communication had been passed and all the boys had been sent away to the hostel. A hurried message was now being despatched to the hostel to summon all the boys.
The veil that selfishness had donned till now and its camouflage as nobility came down in an instant.
I found myself praying,
“Swami, please let there be a Trayee session and let the door open right away. That way, I can get in before the other boys and sit right at your lotus feet.”
“Selfish!” screamed my heart
“Don’t think all that. Just try to get a good spot...” my head retorted.
In an instant I understood how selfish I had been. The nobility of wanting Swami to rest had all disappeared the moment I had a chance to be seated in the front! Ah! How well you disguise yourself Oh selfishness! I felt very ashamed of my thoughts. Adding to my guilt pangs was the fact that the door opened immediately. The boys had not yet arrived. On instinct, I began running and soon found myself seated right in front of the jhoola. In a few moments the other boys arrived.


As I sat there, the happenings of the whole evening flashed within my being. I was feeling very ashamed and guilty. I thought that it was my selfish prayer that deprived some other student of the wonderful chance to sit in front. Guilt was almost killing me from within. I was shedding tears.
The inner door opened and Swami walked into the hall. He came and sat on the jhoola. I could bear it no longer. In my heart, I screamed out to Swami,
“Swami! I am sorry. I have been very selfish. And I had the cheek to call it nobility. I shall never pray like this again. In fact, I shall never pray for anything because you always know best. Who am I to assume that I know better that the Lord? From now on, my prayers will always be for the whole world to be happy and for my the love in my heart to grow. Forgive me Swami. I am feeling ashamed. I was selfish and you have rewarded it? How magnanimous are you! I am ashamed of myself. I am sorry”
"Once the message is learned, the messenger ceases to exist." (Swami is seen here smiling as He sits on the jhoola in Trayee Brindavan)

Tears kept flowing and I kept my head bent low. I was looking at His feet only. I did not feel like even touching them. Such was the disgust I was feeling at my selfishness. Once my tears dried, I looked up at Him. The loving Swami flashed a gentle and beautiful smile. In an instant, I knew that He knew everything. And He had forgiven me completely.
My guilt was gone and so was my remorse. I began to massage His feet. I resolved to be consciously aware of the chameleon - selfishness.
The next day, I was again in the last row. I felt so happy in my heart. I felt very light. I prayed,
“Thank you for everything Swami.” Nothing else came from me.
That day, I sat in the last rows in Trayee. But I was happy - happy for the students in front who were getting a wonderful chance. And that genuinely made me so happy! I realized the power of selflessness. Selfishness depended on me getting the front rows to make me happy. Selflessness kept me happy irrespective of what happened!
“I was selfless and you have rewarded me so much greater”, I prayed to Swami, “for you have rewarded me with such pure happiness in my heart - a happiness that nothing or nobody can take away!”