Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The messenger ceases to exist once the message is delivered - Sathya Sai's advice on dealing with problems

A visit to a famous shrine

It was to be my second trip to the famous temple of goddess Mookambika at Kollur. My parents and in-laws who had not been there before were quite keen to visit this famous South-Indian shrine. I had been there with my wife during our honeymoon and, frankly speaking, had not been very impressed. Do not get me wrong here. The idol of the goddess and the atmosphere at the sanctum had been wonderful. But, even as I entered the temple, I had been accosted rudely by a person who had asked me to take off my T-shirt before entering the main temple. His tone was not friendly and that made me ‘hate’ to take off my T-shirt though I knew that it was the tradition in many temples that the gents had be bare-bodied on top before entering the sanctum.

And so, when I was asked,
“How is the temple?”
I had replied very casually,
“It is so so. Nothing spectacular about it.”
My mother-in-law tried to prod me into being positive,
“It is not without any reason that thousands throng the temple throughout the year...”
“Thousands?! You must be kidding me. When we visited last time, there were hardly a dozen people.”
“But that was in February - academic examinations time in India - and we visited on a weekday in the mid-afternoon”, reminded my wife.
I refused to budge from my evaluation. The memories of my ego being hurt were enough to make me downgrade the temple’s worth itself.
“Whatever you may say, I really don’t understand what is so fantastic about the temple. It’s okay at best...”

That was the conversation before we got into the jeep that drove us from the magnificent Sai Vishram resort to the Kollur Mookambika temple which was about 35 kms away. (By the way, I must mention that the resort is one of the best-ever. It would have attained 5-star status if not for its firm resolve not to allow alcohol, smoking and meat on its grounds.The management there says that it does not care for the ‘star status’ but for Bhagawan Baba’s values!) Within an hour, we were at the temple. My old grudge returned and so, I took off my T-shirt even before I entered the temple. I had no idea of what I would be facing next.

“Sorry! You are not allowed...”
It was a guard who stopped me rudely. I wondered what on earth was his problem. He would not speak English and I acted as if I didn’t understand the Kannada he spoke. I continued to walk. He stopped me roughly and said,
“Not allowed”, letting the others from my family enter the sanctum. He then pointed to the three-fourths trousers that I was wearing and to a sign that said - Bermuda shorts not allowed inside temple sanctum.
“But these are not Bermuda shorts”, I tried protesting.
“Not allowed”, he repeated again and stopped me from entering. And that was when my heart spoke to me,
“You said that there is nothing special in the temple. It is a so-so shrine. So, the Goddess is stopping you from having her darshan. This security guard is just her messenger.”

I knew that was the Truth.

Messengers come regularly in life

There are several instances in my life, especially with my Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, where apparent obstacles have turned out to be messengers from God to me. As long as I see them as obstacles, they irritate and frustrate me. But the moment I see them as messengers and, more importantly, recognise and learn the message they carry, I improve and they vanish! It is indeed true that such a messenger ceases to exist once the message has been delivered. One episode in my life that stands out for its “messenger” qualities took place in 1999, when I was a student of XII grade at the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School (SSSHSS).

Under the subhead - Background 2 - in the article, The Shivarathri of my life, I have detailed some ‘sad’ incidents that had happened when I was in school. For those that do not wish to go to that article and read up, I present the necessary lines here:

This part of the background is something that I am definitely not proud of. But the need for mentioning it is vital for the story and so I proceed. In the academic year 1999-2000, in XII grade, I got caught in an indiscipline problem. The result of that was me getting banned from participating in an sports and cultural events and competitions for the academic year. That did not hurt me as much as the other punishment that the warden awarded me - no permission slips to take camera to the mandir (Sai Kulwant Hall in Prasanthi Nilayam)! I felt as if my life support was plucked out. Taking pictures of Swami with the camera had become so much a part of my life that I could not think of sustaining without it. And as Shivarathri arrived, I felt that not being allowed to shoot would really become unbearable. I had been eagerly anticipating the Shivarathri with the intention of taking pictures of Lingodbhavam.

The Shivarathri that am speaking about in that paragraph happened in March 2000. But the episode I am speaking about now took place on the 15th of September, 1999, just a fortnight after the mentioned ‘indiscipline’ incident! One can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been for me to get the permission necessary to take my camera to mandir.

Ganesha - the Lord of obstacles

The 13th of September, 1999 was Ganesha Chaturthi. Lord Ganesha is called the ‘lord of obstacles’. Often, people take this to mean that he clears all the obstacles in one’s path. Consider the tusker in the jungle. Wherever he walks, he creates a path, clearing all the bushes, trees and other obstacles. Thus, he is a pathfinder, a trailblazer. But when you accost the same tusker while travelling by road through the Bandipur forest reserve, he becomes an obstacle himself. There is no moving till he walks away from the road. This second aspect is often forgotten by people. Swami reveals in His Ganesh Chaturthi discourse on the 24th of August, 1971,

No worship can succeed unless the heart is pure and the senses are mastered. Ganesa is the God who helps overcome obstacles; but, He will create obstacles when good endeavor is obstructed by bad influences; He will clear the path for the sincere Sadhaka. He is Prasannavadanam, of beneficial looks, when you pray to Him for good ends; but He will not be that, when you seek His help for nefarious stratagems!

As Bhagawan Baba put it, Ganesha also puts obstacles on the path if one’s chosen path is the wrong one! That seemed to precisely be the case here.

For a student in Swami’s school, Ganesh Chaturthi becomes more special because of the unique ‘immersion ceremony’. After 3 days of worship, as per tradition, the clay idols of Lord Ganesha have to be immersed in a lake. In Puttaparthi, where the students take every opportunity to get some interaction with Swami, all the idols from the different hostels are brought in chariots and palanquins to the mandir. Swami often poses for photographs with the children and their respective chariots or palanquins. He then breaks coconuts in front of each of these vehicles of Lord Ganesha before they are flagged off for immersion in the lake. Students sing songs and shout slogans in praise of the Ganesha as they proceed towards the lake. The whole ceremony lasts nearly an hour or more.

The Ganesha immersion ceremony of 1998 had been very memorable for me as I got the chance of spending several minutes in close physical proximity to Swami. But that did not seem to be the case this year as I had been ‘banned’ from all such activities due to my ‘indiscipline problem’! Therefore, as Ganesha Chaturthi arrived, I was enveloped in a pall of gloom, not having anything to look forward too while all my classmates energetically made themselves useful in making a chariot that would carry Lord Ganesha to Lord Sai.
An aerial image of 4 of the 20 odd chariots that wend their way to the Mandir annually during immersion ceremony.

The message

I had been on my best behaviour since that one mistake of my school life at SSSHSS. I had also immersed myself completely in singing bhajans and doing the ritual worship during the 3 days of Ganesh Chaturthi. Even as I did this, I hoped that God would notice my good behaviour, forgive me and give me a chance to shoot photographs in mandir during the Ganesha Immersion day. If not that, I hoped to at least get a chance to accompany my class chariot to the mandir.

As the days passed and the D-Day arrived, there seemed to be no light for me at the end of the tunnel. Suddenly, I was called to the warden’s office regarding some ‘camera’ matter. I hoped for some light. But when I was told specifically by the warden that I should not even dream of carrying a camera to mandir especially during the Ganesha Immersion ceremony, I realized that the light at the end of the tunnel was that of an oncoming train! I was on the verge of tears as I returned to my room. I sat crying in front of Swami’s picture, not knowing what I should do. And then, it struck me!

A realization dawned based on what my inspiring class teacher, ‘Sailesh sir’ had told during a talk. In spite of being a genius in his subject - Physics - and a maestro in playing the harmonium, he had declared,
“I have been brought here by Swami, for Swami. That is most important. People might consider me as a Physics teacher or the in-charge of the bhajan group. But I remind myself that I am here for Swami and nothing else. If getting close to Swami requires me to give up Physics and the harmonium, two things very dear to me, I shall gladly do so because Swami is the MOST IMPORTANT.”
That was the ‘message’ for me. In an instant, I wiped my tears and said,
“Swami, I have joined Your school only to win your love and grace. The chariot procession and my camera are just instruments to achieve them. I shall not forget that and get attached to them.”
And in a Sailesh sir-esque manner, I too declared,
“If getting close to Swami requires me to give up camera and the chance of going with the Ganesha Chaturthi chariot, two things very dear to me, I shall gladly do so because Swami is the MOST IMPORTANT.”
I not only declared it, I meant it in my heart too!

Even as my tears dried up, I was summoned again to the warden’s office. Wondering what it was this time, I went there. Without even uttering a word, the warden wrote a permission slip for me to take the camera to mandir. He merely said,
“Only this one time”, and handed over the chit of paper to me. Even as I returned to my room, I was summoned to my class teacher’s room - Sailesh sir’s room. To my amazement, he told me,
“I know that you have not worked in making the chariot but you have sincerely participated in each and every prayer and bhajan session. So, I feel you should accompany the chariot to the mandir. Here, put on this yellow jacket, tie this ribbon and off you go.”
I could not believe this sudden turn of events! It was as if Ganesha had changed from the maker of obstacles to the breaker of obstacles once the purpose of the obstacle was served. The obstacle seemed to be a ‘messenger’ who dissolved into thin air the minute its ‘message’ was delivered and accepted!

All’s well that ends well
Got a chance to almost bury my face into His
hair as He posed with our chariot. 

And so, I accompanied the class chariot carrying the Ganesha idol to the mandir. Swami came and posed with out group for a photograph and my face was almost buried in His fragrant halo of hair. Immediately after He finished posing with our group, I began to move about with my camera, taking pictures. For almost half an hour, Swami moved around the chariots, blessing the students and breaking coconuts. After that was done, He was flagging the chariots out of the mandir. Destiny had it that I wasn’t with my chariot but right behind Swami as He was flagging it away. I could not move because Swami was right in front of me.

As I knelt there, I began to understand the import of the experience. The whole hall was resounding with different bhajans being sung by student groups at each chariot. Veda chanting was on and victory slogans to Lord Ganesha rented the air. Amidst all these sounds, my heart began to say,
“I love you Swami... I love you Swami...”
The feelings of my heart soon transformed into words from my lips and I began to continuously chant,
“I love you Swami... I love you Swami.”
Though His back was to me, I was sure that Swami would be hearing each and every word that I was saying.
As if in confirmation, as the last few chariots were moving out (there were about 20 of them totally) Swami suddenly threw the handkerchief in His hand, directly into my lap. Immediately, He also turned around, flashed a beautiful smile and told me to keep the handkerchief with me. Then, He moved on. It was simply a confirmation of my priorities. The message had been received and all the ‘problems’ had simply vanished, transforming into blessings galore!
A blurry image that shows how Swami suddenly swiveled around and dropped the handkerchief
on to my lap. I am sitting with a yellow 'jacket' on to Swami's right. 

Therefore, it was not difficult for me to accept this security guard at the Mookambika temple as one such messenger. I looked at my ‘Bermuda’ shorts, stepped back with a smile. I mentally said,
“Dear Goddess! I have been unnecessarily harsh in my criticism of this beautiful shrine. I take back my words. No house of God can ever be so-so because IT IS THE HOUSE OF GOD! I was hasty and stupid and so, I am not being allowed to enter your home. It’s fine. I have realized my mistake.”

It had not been even a second after I finished this mental statement when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was another security guard. He handed me a shining red, silk dhoti (garment for wrapping the lower part of the body). He said,
“Drape this around yourself and enjoy the Goddess’ darshan.”

I knew it! The message had been received and the messenger had disappeared, transforming himself into a blessing. As I walked into the sanctum, my father exclaimed,
“Oh My God! Red is a dear color for the Goddess. Where on earth did you get this dhoti?”

I just smiled and said truthfully,
“I seem to be very dear to the benevolent Goddess and so she gifted it to me.”

(Just as an aside, speaking of Ganesh Chaturthi, do you know why you should not see the moon on the Ganesha Chaturthi day? Read that story involving Lord Krishna, Lord Ganesha and the Syamantaka jewel here:

Why you should not see the moon on Ganesh Chaturthi - Story of the Syamantaka gem )

For all readers:
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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

When one is made to move away from God to get closer to God...

From the frying pan into the fire
The last photo which Amey received before he was thrown out of school.

It was the conviction of Amey’s parents that whatever happens, one must not let go of the feet of the Lord.
“Even if the Lord kicks you, do not let go of His feet.”
That was their guiding motto and so, even though the rejection letter had reached them, they decided to do the only thing that they knew – rush to Puttaparthi for succor. It was the June of 1993 and due to certain happenings, the place reserved for the alumni of the Sathya Sai Educational Institutions was taken away and the seating privileges of the alumni were revoked. This was precisely the blow that Amey did not want at this time because he was desperate to gain some physical access to his dear Swami and tell Him about the misfortune that had struck him.

( This is actually part 2 of a riveting story. If you have come here directly, please visit the first part and then continue reading: Sometimes things go horribly wrong before going right. )

Within a day of Amey and his parents arriving at Puttaparthi, Swami left for Brindavan.  The trio followed him to the Bangalore Ashram but the same ‘seating rules’ prevailed there too and there was nothing much that Amey could do. He cried bitterly when his father inevitably informed him that it was time to head back home and enroll in a school before it gets too late. The prospects of having to face the many devotees back home who looked up to him and having to answer their queries terrified him even more. He only cried and cried more. A little respite came from the fact that his father too got a transfer from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi. At least, he would be spared of the uncomfortable questions.

Thus life went on, dragged on drearily in fact. Instead of being a special student at Swami’s school, Amey had become one among many in just another school. He now got very angry and that ire was directed on all the teachers who had ‘complained’ against him to Swami. How could he be said to have ‘unwanted connections’ and be a person of ‘too much talk’? And what was the meaning of him being ‘medically unfit’? Had not everyone seen how Swami had made him the apple of His eyes when he had to undergo the appendicitis operation? What could have been the malicious intent behind anybody wanting to chuck him out of what he considered as his whole life? These questions rankled him and along with the anger in his heart, tears brimmed in his eyes on a regular basis.

When, after two years, he applied for admission into XI grade, he again received a rejection letter. The parents were ‘advised’ not to bring their ward for admission in Puttaparthi. Suddenly, it dawned on Amey that because of the charges levelled against him, he might never ever get admission into Swami’s institutions again! That wrenched his heart and sank his spirits. He applied again for the degree in Bachelors of Commerce. Since he was a NRI (non-resident Indian), the ruled did not permit him to get admitted. So, it was disappointment again.

Some respite finally!

Amey joined the Seshadripuram college in Bangalore (Bengaluru now) and completed his degree in commerce. Following that, he took up a job in the same city. Alongside this professional progress also came the much-needed respite in terms of his relationship with Swami. Amey became part of the Brindavan Bhajan Group and, thus, every Thursday and Sunday when Swami was in Brindavan, he would get the coveted chance of sitting in the first row and singing for his Lord. Slowly but surely, Swami began to speak with him. Amey now began entertaining hopes of attaining his lost former glory in terms of endearing himself to his Lord. This endeavor of his seemed to get crowned with success during a visit to Puttaparthi.

In the darshan lines, Swami spotted him and called him by that endearing term,
“Appendicitis boy...”
Amey rushed and knelt before Swami.
“Where are you?” Swami asked.
“Swami, I have completed my schooling and Bachelors in Commerce.”
“Why did you leave the school? Why did you leave Swami? All the other students happily continued to study here...”
Amey had no answer. Once again, he felt his anger against those unknown perpetrators rising. But he chose not to tell anything to Swami. With a flick of His finger, Swami indicated to Amey to go to the interview room!

Two personal interviews followed in the next 3 days. And in an instant, Amey had become a celebrity again. Friends who often avoided him, now came back flocking to him. Even as his stock price shot beyond the ceiling, Amey did not get carried away. He knew that it was his newfound  stock price which had attracted the clamouring ‘investors’ - the same ones who had totally avoided him all these years.  He kept quiet and did not care one bit for the attention. However, he could not hold back when his former ‘best friend’ came to speak to him.
“Keep away from me. How is it that suddenly I have become dear to you? I am the same guy but your treatment has varied so much. You are simply an opportunistic and selfish person.”

His friend smiled and replied. And that reply was enough to pick Amey from the peak of his joy back to the same abysmal depths of depression, if not deeper.

Back to square one

Looking straight into Amey’s eyes, the friend replied,
“What could I do? The day you left the school, the class teacher revealed what had happened. When the list of new students had been taken to Swami for approval, he had specifically asked for the roll number of the ‘appendicitis boy.’ The teachers were sure that Swami wanted to confer some special blessing on you as they pointed out to your number. Swami simply struck your name off the rolls and said that you were no longer needed in the school! So, all of us naturally assumed that Swami did not want any of us to interact with you. Nobody knew why you were thrown out but this much is certain that Swami expelled you. We feared His ire if we spoke to you.”

Amey was now in another daze. He simply walked away from the friend and could not believe that it was his Swami who was behind all this. He felt deceived and let down completely. Thinking back about the past few days, he was in mixed feelings. While the sweet talk and interviews had convinced him that nothing had changed between him and his Lord, this revelation from his friend shocked him into thinking whether he had got things right. He left Puttaparthi and returned to Bangalore. He needed some time by himself to come to terms with the information he had received.

Acting in the MBA Day drama in 2004.
Being a positive person by nature, his thinking in solitude resulted in a pure thought with a steely determination,
“Come what may, I shall strive to become dear to the Lord. I don’t know what I did to make Him take this drastic step of kicking me out of school. But I shall strive for one more chance to redeem myself.”
Born from this resolve was the desire to join the MBA course in the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. Even as he worked for Hewlett Packard, Amey constantly kept preparing for admission into the University. In the meanwhile, his prayers during the bhajans at Brindavan gained a new intensity. He kept praying,
“Swami, please give me one more chance and I shall prove myself worthy of your love.”
That pining was reflected in his singing and everybody agreed that this boy - Indraneel - was one of the best singers. (Yes, he had changed from Amey to Indraneel. To this day, he continues to be Indraneel for the people from Bangalore.) His thought, word and deeds were directed towards an MBA admission.

The achievement of the goal

His first two attempts at getting an MBA seat were failures. But that did not deter him and he kept trying, year after year. Exactly a decade after being sent out from the school, Amey, in 2003, achieved the first part of his dream - he was selected for the MBA programme in the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. The ten years away from Swami had given birth to another realization in him.

“I came to know that there is nothing in the world, nothing in life other than the Lord, my Swami. I decided that I would do whatever necessary to be with Him and never lose contact with Him again. I realized that I would possibly have left Swami to pursue a career after my education if not for this decade-long stint in the ‘outside world’. Those 10 years made me realize the magnitude of the blessing of staying with Swami. It trained my focus on to Swami and Swami alone. Thus, when I got an MBA seat, I was delighted. This would be my re-entry into the world with my Lord and, this time, I would ensure that nothing ever takes me away from it.”

Even as he achieved the first part of his dream, he did not lose sight of his ultimate dream - to become near and dear to his Swami. Being his classmate, doing the MSc course as he did his MBA, I can definitely vouch for his efforts. Amey became a lead singer in the bhajan group, was regular in all the hostel disciplines, excelled in studies and was clearly in college to pursue a lifelong sadhana. Everybody felt that he was different - some even criticized his ‘needless adherence to the ideal way’ but that was surely born out of their own inability to be like him! Amey also became part of all the cultural programmed put up in mandir in the Divine Presence. He excelled as a speaker and actor.

His faith in Swami had been strengthened by a statement that he often read and and heard from Swami,
“I sometimes act as if I keep you at a distance; that is done to reform you quicker. When a stretch of road is being repaired, I go by another detour and I do not use that bit of road for some time. The purpose is to let the repair works proceed more quickly so that I may use that road again.”

Ah! That is the property of Divine Love alone. Even at the cost of being misunderstood and ‘hated’, Swami continues to do what is best for the individual. He knows that though you may criticize Him now and feel bad, in due course of time, the divine wisdom and love will be appreciated. While human love is concerned only with the comfort of the body and the mind, divine love sacrifices the body and mind at the altar of the soul. Divine love is concerned only with soul which is forever, rather than the body which keeps changing with every birth.

The cherry on the icing

In 2007, Amey was a research scholar, pursuing his PhD in Management. He had no idea that Swami had been silently witnessing his ‘growth’ and had decided to give him a pat on the back. The 21st of August is celebrated as the ‘MBA Day’ to mark the inception of this professional programme in the University. Every year, the MBA students would put up a drama in Swami’s presence on MBA day. However, in 2007, Swami scripted the day differently.

He told the vice-chancellor, A.V.Gokak that there was no need of a drama as the students had put up one less than a week ago (that would be the Independence Day Drama on 15th August). He wanted a couple of speeches instead. When the names of some senior teachers were presented to Swami to select as the speakers, Swami said that he wanted speakers who could sing very well. He wanted many songs in between the talks he said. Only two people from the MBA department fitted this bill - Amey Deshpande and Subash Subramaniam. That in itself gave a hint about Swami’s selectivity.

On the 21st of August, 2007, Amey and Subash delivered their talks. It was unbelievable to see that Swami was almost in tears after an hour. He said,
“I am feeling so full today that I am not able to speak. You have given me so much joy.”

For Amey, that was an acknowledgement of his decade-long efforts. Swami did not stop at that. He said that since He was not addressing the students that day, He would specially address them the next day morning.  Conferring the two boys with lots of blessings, Swami left after the bhajans.

That evening, the vice-chancellor visited the hostel to invite all the students and teachers to the mandir next morning for Swami’s discourse! Having done his duty, he sent everyone out but these two boys. Then, he told them,
“Swami was all the while remembering and speaking about you only. He said that He wanted such boys to stay with Him forever. He even discussed with everyone at the dinner table about the steps and measures to be taken to retain such excellent Sai-students. He has advised me to ask you this and so I am doing it in private. What would it take for you to remain here always? Swami is ready to pay any salary, give you any comforts and do everything possible so that you remain here with Him always. He says that students like you are His greatest treasure and He wants to retain you here forever. So, tell me, what is it that you seek?”

Amey was now in tears. Ten years ago, Swami had sent him out. Today, He was pleading him to stay and stating that He was ready to do anything to keep him with Him. Ah! What humility! The ten years ‘away’ from Swami had brought Amey very close to Swami. So, he answered the vice chancellor,
“Sir, Swami has given me more than I could ever imagine. It will be my privilege and opportunity to be here with Him forever. Please tell Swami that he has always given me even before I have asked. The fact that He wants me here forever is the greatest blessing that is conferred on me. It is Swami’s love and humility that makes Him seek this as a favor from me when, in reality, this is the greatest blessing that I can ever imagine.”
Chained to his dear Lord for Life...

And that was when Amey realized that at times, you are made to move away from your goal to achieve your goal! The next morning, Swami materialized a gold chain for Amey and ‘chained’ him to Himself for life. He did the same to Subash as well. During the discourse on the 22nd of August,2007, He presented the two students as ideals for the whole student community:

“Yesterday, the talks delivered by two of our MBA students were very good. Listening to them was a great pleasure to Me. We are very happy to have such good boys in our college. These two boys stood first in their class and were awarded gold medals. But you should not be satisfied with these awards and rewards. You should become good boys. Even the value of gold may diminish but not the value of goodness. Hence, you should cultivate goodness and earn a good name which will remain forever.

Students, you are like pure gold. You are all very good. But sometimes you encounter waves of disturbance and doubts in your lives. Many a time, your faith is shaken by some aberrations. Do not pay attention to these. They will go as they come. Come what may, you must remain fearless and steady. Your studies are meant to develop steadiness in you. Study to be steady. Keep this always in your mind. Look at these two boys. How happy they are! In fact, all the MBA students are good. It is not possible to say that one is good and the other is bad. Their singing also was so good. They are intelligent, virtuous and full of vigour. They will be an asset wherever they go. Such boys should stay back to serve the institution so that they can impart their goodness to others. There is nothing great in going abroad and earning a lot of money with your academic qualifications. Money comes and goes, morality comes and grows.”

Today, a decade after joining the MBA programme, Amey continues to be in Puttaparthi as a teacher. He continues to motivate and inspire love for Swami in the hearts of the students and is happy to have achieved his dream of being close to Swami forever.

For all readers:
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