Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Kumar wins the greatest gift of life from Sri Sathya Sai_Part 2

The bhajan that he could never forget

The bhajan that Kumar had chosen to sing was full of pathos and meaning. It called out to Swami as one’s everything - mother, father, Guru, friend, sibling. It also addressed Him as the Vedas, Upanishads and the Geeta of life. It was a bhajan of complete surrender to Him. Since Kumar had completely been shattered by the tragedy that was happening meters away from where he was singing, he was almost sobbing as he sang. It had taken superhuman effort to sing that day. In fact, such was his emotional turmoil that he sang the first line of the bhajan - Sai Pita aur Mata Sai - twice. He sought some response and solace from Swami but all he had got was to see his Lord turn His face on him, looking outside the hall. Even as he sang, he prayed to Swami within,
“Swami, even in this hour of need, you are not setting aside the cold treatment! You are deserting me and going away from me. who do I turn to now? You don’t even want to hear what I want to say. Have I become so unwanted?”

(Dear reader, if you are reading directly from here, let me assure you that you have missed quite a lot of the story. Please come back to this after reading the first part which is at the link given below:

Soon, Kumar completed his bhajan and the rest of the session went on. It was almost after 5 bhajans that Swami returned after His bonus darshan round. Would there be some compassion for Kumar at least now? He recalls his feelings at that moment.

Swami walked into the bhajan hall, took his seat on the throne. He continued looking outside and enjoying the bhajans like everything was fine. After the 6th bhajan, he got up to receive Arati. Forget talking to me, He did not even glance at me. He simply received Arati and walked out of the bhajan hall, back to his residence. I was totally devastated. I considered it as my worst fate and walked out of the bhajan hall. I wanted to rush home and hoped that Amma would be alive.

Yet another shock

As Kumar exited the bhajan hall and rushed towards EA1, scores of students and teachers walked up to him and patted him on his back saying,
“Blessed you...”
“You are lucky...”
“You are Swami’s very own...”
Kumar was wondering what that all meant. Even the warden walked to him and gave him a gentle pat. Not able to comprehend what was happening, Kumar sprinted towards his house.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Kumar wins the greatest gift of life from Sri Sathya Sai_ Part 1

Off for the darshan of the Lord

The 9th of December in 1986 dawned as usual in the holy hamlet of Puttaparthi, nestling amidst the hills in the Anantapur district of the then united state of Andhra Pradesh in India. The hostel for senior boys was bustling with hectic activity as all of them got ready for the classes of the day. Among the hundreds of such hurrying students was also Mr.V.Kumar, a student of the MBA (Masters of Business Administration) course at the Prasanthi Nilayam campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.

Like any other place on earth, for most students in Parthi also, classes were not the most exciting prospect of the day. And that was because the most beautiful time of the day was in the evening when they would go for the darshan of their beloved Swami, Bhagawan Baba, in the mandir. So, Kumar too went through the rigmarole of all the classes, eagerly waiting for the sun to move from the east to the western skies. As the last bell of the day at the Institute went off, Kumar rushed to the hostel. He freshened up, tore away the ‘college whites’ that he was wearing to don the bright, creaseless whites that he had kept aside for the darshan.

A photograph of V.Kumar and his parents in the interview room. Swami has signed the photograph for Kumar. This was
just one among the dozens of interviews that he got.
Within a matter of minutes, Kumar was at the popular Ganesh gate of the ashram. The Ganesh gate was akin to the pit stop in a Formula 1 race. The only difference was that while tires get changed in a pit stop, footwear get lodged in the region near the gate! But just like drivers compete with each other to occupy the pit for the least time possible, the students too try to get rid of the slippers as fast as they can to rush past the chequered flag (read mandir entrance) in order to occupy vantage positions for the darshan.

As Kumar cast away his slippers, he spied on a few that were carefully hiding their footwear. In a place like Prasanthi Nilayam where a few thousand gather daily for darshan, loss of footwear is a regular affair. Some students, in fact, ran a chain around the belts of their flip flops (the most common student-footwear) and locked it, placing the key in their wallets! Prasanthi Nilayam thus, is not only a place of soul-protection but sole-protection too. Kumar was amused at this. However, he too had his own strategy to protect the protectors of his soles. He would leave his slippers near his home, room A1 in East Prasanthi, right next to the mandir. The house was a gift from Swami to his parents in 1985 - a bountiful blessing for the pious souls.

Leaving the slippers outside the temple is so symbolic and pregnant with meaning. It seems to advise us that we should leave everything that has been contaminated by the external world outside before entering God’s place. It is time for the inner world now!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The passport to God - recognizing His omnipresence in our lives

An intellectually invigorating ‘awareness’ class

I vividly remember a discussion during the “Awareness” class of my MSc days at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. The teacher present was Prof.G.Venkataraman, a highly reputed and accomplished man of science in India. The professor had his unique style of conducting awareness classes. He would force us to think deeply to arrive at answers to profound question. He would stitch together deep spirituality with the practical problems the world faces. He always looked forward to questions because he believed that life is not about getting the correct answers but about asking the right questions.  (In fact, I remembered his inspiring presence in the classroom with excitement when my Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba told me to join Radiosai as my place of work. GV as he is popularly called was the director under whom I had to report.)

The discussion in class that day was about the omnipresence of God. It started with a question from the professor.
“What is God?” he asked the whole class.
Among the plethora of answers that came was one which said,
“God is the omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient one.”
“Okay”, challenged GV sir, “what do you mean by omnipresent? How is it that God is omnipresent?”
There were no satisfactory answers in the beginning but soon, one boy stood up and answered,
“Sir. God is energy. Energy is God. Since every atom is a storehouse of energy, God is everywhere.”
“Very good”, GV sir was happy, “that is something that everyone recognizes - energy in all matter. In fact, the great Albert Einstein even equated mass with energy with his famous equation. And since everything in the universe has some mass, everything has energy. But that is only one level of God’s omnipresence. He is present in a subtler plane as well. What is that?”

Again, a lot of discussion and thought resulted in the next answer,
“God is life. Life is God. Life is subtler than energy and that is probably why nobody has been able to define what exactly life is. But everyone recognizes life - and when it leaves.”
“Beautiful!” exclaimed the professor, “That is precisely why a son or daughter kneels before the body of the father crying - Father! Why did you leave me? - The body is still there and yet the child knows that the father is gone. Life is sacred. Life is God. Good. But then, there is the subtlest way in which God is present. Do you know that?”

Since there was a muted silence now, the professor threw a hint.
“Everything in the universe is made up of atoms and thus contains energy. However, plants and animals are considered special because they have ‘life’ which the other things of the universe don’t have. Man is considered even more special because he exhibits God present in yet another level. What is that?”
There were no answers and GV sir answered,
“God is present in man as the conscience. No doubt God is present in us as the life force or praana but that alone too would not help to develop awareness; if that was the case, then donkeys and camels would have turned spiritual long ago. Humans alone have that ability because God is present in humans at a third and higher level, as the conscience or the divine voice in our spiritual heart. However, though each human is gifted with the conscience, it is so subtle that one can often get disconnected from it. It is the birthplace of all goodness and nobility in man. Just ensure that you experience God’s omnipresence at all these three levels and you are good to go. That is true awareness - to recognise God’s omnipresence at all these three levels.”

Credit: Musings on Awareness
With that, we can move on to an experience at the passport office that gave me an insight or two about God’s presence in our lives.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Illusion or Maya - Is this true or is that true?

The Janaka story

There is a famous story of the wise king Janaka which is simply the perfect recipe to understand the illusory nature of the world. In the Sanathana Dharma (the Eternal Way of Life - which has been carelessly translated as ‘Hinduism’), there is a special term to denote this illusory and temporary nature of the world - Maya. The impact of Maya is tremendous; in fact it is the cause for everything that we see, hear and feel in the physical world. To understand what is Maya better, I would direct the reader to the introductory paragraph in the story of the squirrel helping Lord Rama and to that occasion when Maya made me negate my own Master (Guru), Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The story of Janaka is yet another lovely illustration.

One fine day, as Emperor Janaka sat on the throne in his palace, enjoying a dance by a bevy of beautiful damsels, he dozed off! Seeing this, the courtiers and dancers wondered what they should do. Lacking the temerity to wake him up or disturb him, they all slowly slipped away to their respective rooms, leaving the king alone in the massive hall. In the meanwhile, the emperor had a dream.

He dreamt that rival kings had joined forces and invaded his dominion and captured his capital and that, to save himself from them he ran into a forest. Fleeing from his foes, he had no food for days together. He was too exhausted to move. But, hunger dragged him on. When he came to the outskirts of a tribal village, he saw a man washing his plate after taking food; he shouted to him asking for a few particles. The man gave him a small morsel, but, as bad luck would have it, a crow flew in at that moment and snatched it away! In that pathetic plight, he began to scream in agony. And suddenly, he woke up!

Even as he opened his eyes, he saw that he was surrounded by his queen, his maids and personal attendants. They were awaiting his slightest indication so that they could rush to serve him. He saw large trays and bowls of the choicest fruits. His cook too was in a corner, and he would surely whip up mouth-watering delicacies at the slightest wish of the emperor. But Janaka was in a daze. He looked at his queen and asked,
“Is this real or is that real?”

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

When God says No to your prayers - my experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 2

The contrast effect

Having refused to give me the vibhuti packet, Swami moved ahead during the darshan. when I say ‘moved ahead’ here, I am talking not about meters or feet but of a few inches. To the boy sitting immediately to my right, Swami offered a vibhuti packet. And in a sweet, childlike manner, turned around to see my reaction. Was this His test to see how I respond to the contrast between His strong refusal to me and His gracious benediction on the neighbour? I just had a smile on my face.

The vibhuti packets found their way into my neighbours' hands...
(I must confess here that my response was not because of my ‘nobility’. The prayer for vibhuti had been made at the spur of the moment when I saw the packets in His hand. It was not something that I had sought consciously and built an expectation for. So, I was able to simply smile it off.)

But Swami did not stop. He went ahead and gave the second packet to my second neighbour and once again, from the corner of His eye looked at me. Now, my eyes grew larger in amusement. Then, moving to the third neighbour, Swami gave away the third and final packet too. Before He could turn and check itself, I checked myself from laughing out loud.

What Swami did was so cute and childlike that I was beaming broadly in my face and laughing aloud in my heart.

{This is actually Part 2 of an interesting story. This part will make better sense and also more enjoyable reading if preceded by Part 1. Please read that at the link given below and return here!
When God says No to your prayers - my experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 1}

As I look back at this little incident, a very poignant message strikes me. It is not wrong to desire. Desires arise spontaneously and they flow through our being like water through a pipe. The secret is to allow the free flow and not ‘hold on’ to any desire via expectations. Expectations clog the flow and lead to a buildup of pressure - pressure that results in stress, frustration and anger. Allowing the flow without expectations results in smiles and laughter - even when God says ‘No’.

Monday, 7 July 2014

When God says No to your prayers - my experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 1

When God says 'Yes' or 'Wait'...

For most of us, a prayer often turns out to be a request for help. Of course, at times there are prayers of gratitude too, but more often than not, such prayers come immediately after the request-prayers! We pray for something, God grants it and, there you go, we offer a prayer of gratitude. These are instances when God says 'Yes' to our prayers and gives us what we want. There are some other instances when God says 'Wait' to our prayers. With firm faith that God's delays are not His denials, we wait with patience and perseverance. At the right moment when the prayer is fulfilled, we realize how perfect God's timing was and offer our gratitude. We seem to reflect God's own statement back to Him saying, "When it comes to offering gratitude, our delays too are not our denials." We rejoice when God says 'Wait' because though He may not give us what we want, He gives us something better.

But what if God says 'No'? I mean it is not a joy-filling 'Yes' or a hope-arising 'Wait' but a flat 'No' on the face? It is in this connection that I recall an episode which occurred on the 28th of July, 2010. This was the day when my God and best friend, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, gave a flat 'No' to a very 'reasonable' prayer that I made. What did that teach me? The message will be better understood when we go through the happenings of the day. But for those who are curious, I can drop a little hint. The answer lies in the Madhurashtakam composed by the great Vallabhacharya which describes every aspect of the Lord in the Krishna form as sweet and charming.  So, yes, even when God says 'No' it is sweet and charming!

A cataract to be operated

After my father's retirement in the May of 2010, my parents had shifted to Puttaparthi to settle down for life as per Swami's instructions. They were in bliss, enjoying darshan twice a day on a daily basis. I too felt so happy for them. This was that period in my life which I wished would go on forever. Within a few blissful weeks, my father began to complain about his inability to see clearly through his right eye. Having experienced a cataract operation for his left eye before, he was convinced that this was a cataract problem. I immediately sought an appointment with the ophthalmologist at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences.

The doctor examined my father's eye and confirmed that it was indeed a cataract and a hard one at that. He said,
"Of course this surgery can be performed here. But I would strongly recommend that it is performed by Dr.K. He is currently visiting our general hospital in Bangalore and I could forward this case to him if you agree."
Trusting the doctor's wisdom, I agreed.

My father, being a cardiac patient, needed a cardiac clearance certificate before he could undergo the operation. (The story of his 'heart attack' is another wonderful experience in itself. That is what happens with Swami - the worst of experiences too become memorable.) We obtained that certificate and the date chosen for the operation was the 2nd of August, 2010. This was when I felt that I must inform Swami and seek His blessings for the same.
So, on the 28th of July, a Wednesday, I borrowed a pen from my neighbour in the darshan lines and began writing a letter to Swami. I wrote in brief about the happenings so far and sought His blessings for the operation which was slated to be performed on the coming Monday. Having completed the letter, I waited for Swami to arrive.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Playing the harmonium for Sai's bhajans - student S.V.Satheesh's experiences_ PART 2

When the Divine Mother opens doors...

It was with a heart full of fear of losing something very valuable that Satheesh landed in Brindavan after completing his M.Tech exams. In the meanwhile, Swami had initiated the exercise of preparation for the annual Convocation drama, guiding a few select teachers and students.

That year, Swami had insisted on having the Burrakatha as part of the drama. (Since then, Burrakatha has flourished as another art form among the students. In fact, for a few students, Burrakatha has been the experience of their lives!) So, apart from the main cast for the drama, three singers too had been chosen. These actors and singers would be called into Trayee Brindavan, Bhagawan’s residence in Brindavan, daily for practise sessions. Though the Burrakatha had three main singers, it required a host of others to act as the supporting-music team. And Satheesh was part of that team.

(If you have come straight to this article, it is highly recommended that you read the first part of this story before proceeding ahead. the first part is located at the below link:

“One evening, after the actors were called inside Trayee, we were waiting and praying outside. After sometime the singers were called in. I was waiting near the trees. As I was looking at Trayee, I remembered Swami's words to a Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee in Trayee,
"This is your home, your Mother's home; you can come here anytime.”
Tears filled my eyes as I realised that after a few months I may not even be able to step into these hallowed Trayee grounds once I pass out of Swami's college. Would these be my last few days? Would I never get a chance to enter my Divine Mother's home again? Within moments, I was fighting to hold back my tears.”

“Knock and it shall be opened unto you” is a popular biblical verse. It appears that it is best to ‘knock’ through tears of love and pining because even as Satheesh was battling his tears, the twin doors of Trayee Brindavan were throw open. The teacher who walked out beckoned to Satheesh and Sharath, a student of grade XII who played the tambourine, to enter. Swami, who till date, heard the Burrakatha songs with just the pocket-keyboard accompaniment of Sailesh sir (the music group in charge), had today asked for the harmonium and tambourine accompaniments! Ah what divine mercy! Satheesh rushed in along with Sharath. Both were right in realizing that it was just Swami’s grace that was getting them this opportunity. But they had not imagined the extent of that grace.