Thursday, 12 February 2015

The blessings of pain - Amey's experience with Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

The need to ‘love God’

It was during a session at the 39th Annual State Conference of the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organization in Odisha that a young man got up and asked a question,
“How can we love and worship God when we are ourselves in such pain and need? Isn’t it true that we can focus properly on spirituality only if our needs are met and pains assuaged?”

Even as this question was asked, I began to ponder about it. It is so natural that this question arises. In fact, Swami Vivekananda is quoted to have said,
“Don’t teach spirituality to a hungry man.”
Roti, Kapada and Makaan (food, clothing and shelter) are recognised as the basic needs without which, one cannot think of one’s mental and emotional needs also. That is what the famous Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also states powerfully - that human beings are motivated by a hierarchy of needs. It is only when the needs that constitute the lower levels are satisfied that a person thinks about fulfilling higher level needs. This theory is represented by a pyramid as shown below.

Maslow's hierarchical pyramid of needs.
Physiological needs are the physical requirements for human survival which include food, water, clothing and shelter. Safety and Security needs include personal security, financial security, health security and a safety net against accidents. Love and Belonging needs are covered in belonging to some societal group, a family; having friendships and intimacy.  Esteem needs present the typical human desire to be accepted and valued by others. It is only when all these four are met and achieved that a person contemplates self-actualization, which is defined as achieving one’s full potential. Different individuals perceive this fifth need differently and it can get expressed as professional excellence, being a perfect parent, artistic magnificence and so on.

With that in mind, we get back to the question,
““How can we love and worship God when we are ourselves in such pain and need? Isn’t it true that we can focus properly on spirituality only if our needs are met and pains assuaged?”

If we delve a little deeper, we realize that loving God, as a need, works in a way more mysterious and subtle that all the five needs mentioned by Maslow. And to make that clear, it would be apt to narrate a life-experience of Amey Deshpande. Amey is not a person needing introduction to a regular reader here. He is a dear Sai-brother of mine, who has been involved in several of my experiences with Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) including the one in which Swami accepted me as His best friend. I have earlier penned down how he took a step towards Swami and was blessed with a beautiful assurance. I have also written about his most painful experience when he got thrown out of Swami’s school - a case of things having to go horribly wrong before being set aright. In the same vein, here is another educative experience of his.

An ‘ill-fated’ Sunday-morning bhajan session

After losing his seat in Swami’s school in 8th grade, Amey had tried hard to get back into the school in 11th grade. Since that had not happened, he had tried getting admitted into the BCom course at the University. That too had not happened. So, he enrolled in the Sheshadripuram College at Bengaluru (Bangalore then) and graduating in honours with a BCom degree, Amey got employed at Hewlett-Packard. He also became a Seva Dal volunteer at Brindavan, Whitefield. He has been blessed with a wonderful voice and it is not surprising that he soon became a lead bhajan-singer there. Every Thursday and Sunday, when the Bangalore Seva Dal got the opportunity to lead bhajans, Amey was in the forefront.

One Sunday somewhere in the summer of 2001 or 2002, Amey started singing the bhajan "Yuga Yuga Ke Avatara, Sai Rama, Sai Krishna, Sai Baba" as thousands at Sai Ramesh hall waited for Swami to arrive for darshan. Midway through the first speed of the bhajan, a very senior Seva Dal member came rushing to the bhajan group from Swami’s Residence compound.

“Stop singing that bhajan right now...” he said amidst his huffing and puffing, “Swami is very upset hearing it!”
The sole objective in any devotee’s life is to please one’s Lord. When something upsets the Lord, the devotee is equally upset too! Instantly, Amey concluded that bhajan in an abrupt manner. The next bhajan began and the senior Seva Dal member walked back having accomplished his task.

A few minutes later, Swami arrived for darshan. During His rounds, He walked up to Utpan, another singer, and asked,
“Who sang that bhajan?”
Obviously, the reference was to the bhajan that had been abruptly halted and Swami did not seem to be in a happy mood. Utpan folded his hands and said,
“Swami, it was a mistake. Please forgive us.”

I must pause here to draw attention to this very noble trait of teamwork in the Brindavan Bhajan Group. Whenever Swami would be happy with a bhajan and would ask who the singer was, the credit would be given to the entire group. Therefore, when Swami was upset too, the blame would be equally shared by all. It was as if the Brindavan Bhajan Group was a complete entity itself and not a collection of individuals - true team spirit indeed!

Swami during a bhajan session at Brindavan in 2002

That is why Utpan did not point out to Amey as the culprit. Instead, he apologised on behalf of the bhajan group. 

Swami’s face seemed to get a look of disgust.
Chaala tappu! Big mistake to sing that bhajan. Don’t sing that bhajan.
Utpan nodded and Swami moved on. When the darshan rounds were complete and Swami ascended the stage to sit, He still seemed upset. Sunday bhajan would go on till the evening and so, Swami would not receive Arati (the waving of camphor to mark the completion of a worship. The inner significance of Arati has also been beautifully explained by Swami.). Today however, Swami seemed to look around for the Arati. After a while He asked loudly from the stage itself,
“Today is Sunday eh? Okay then...”
He got up and almost walked off in a huff!

Summons and bad news

After Swami had gone into Trayee Brindavan, Amey was called by the then warden of the Brindavan hostel.
“Are you a former Primary School student?” he asked Amey.
“Yes sir...”
“Ah! I see... Tell me, during bhajans today, did you sing out of shruti (pitch)?”
“I don’t think so sir...”
“Did your voice crack when you were singing?”
“No sir... definitely not...”
“I don’t know what to say. You should not have sung that bhajan. Swami says that it has been composed in bad taste!”

So that was the reason why it had been halted midway! God knows our innermost thoughts. Won’t he know the feeling and aspiration with which a bhajan has been composed? This clearly shows that though the tune and expertise matter for humans, for Swami it is only the feelings and motivation that matters. A bhajan is not necessarily pleasing to the Lord just because it has a good tune (like this bhajan Amey sang). The feelings with which it is composed are most important.

Amey nodded to the warden who continued,
“You don’t sing anymore in the near future at least... Pray hard.”
Amey was choked instantly. He felt that he was writhing for some air to breathe. That was when the death-blow was landed.
“Don’t sit with the bhajan group even. Sit behind. Meet me in my office later and we shall see what else needs to be done.”

It was only Amey’s eyes that spoke - profusely in the language of tears. Having been thrown out of school and denied admission in college, this was something worse than a nightmare. And it was happening in broad daylight. As he walked out, his mother accosted him. Amey broke down again telling her what had happened.
“Oh my God! Why is Swami pushing you farther and farther away from Him?” she exclaimed.

The Brindavan Bhajan Group being the perfect team, felt Amey’s pain. All through the day they sang bhajans like “Ek Baar Kshama Karo Sai (Please forgive us for one time Sai)” and “Tere Siva Prabhu Koi Nahi Hain (Lord, we have no refuge other than you)”. Amey sat through the bhajans, crying and crying. After a while, he went to meet the warden in his office.

Verification check, prayers, resolutions and redemption

“Sir, I am here as you had told me to be...”
“Do you have a photograph of yourself?”
“I have my Seva Dal badge sir...”
Amey fished the badge from his pocket. His picture on the card had been taken a couple of years earlier and was not an exact likeness of him.
“No. This won’t do. Go to a studio nearby and get a photo clicked. I shall try to show the photo to Swami and seek some kind of confirmation. In the meanwhile, you keep up your prayers...”
“Sir, today is Sunday. I don’t know if any photo studio will be open now...”
“I shall call up a studio in Kadugodi. He is a friend of mine. He will open the studio for the sake of your picture...”

Thus, Amey landed at the Guru Photo Studio and had his picture clicked. Just one look at him in the picture will convince anyone of the sad and serious mood he was in! He then resigned to Swami and, with pain in the heart, sat somewhere behind in the Sai Ramesh hall for the evening darshan and bhajan. Hundreds of thoughts swam in his head. But among them all, one thought stood out - come what may, I shall not give up. He decided that he would spend every day in contemplation of and prayer to Swami, just the way he had spent the past few hours. He promised himself that instead of coming for darshan just on Thursday and Sunday (as Seva Dal bhajans would be on these two days alone), he would come for darshan every day of the week. That would be quite challenging because Amey lived a good 27 kilometers away from Brindavan. The journey itself would take more than an hour. But then, it didn’t matter. He was ready to lose sleep, get late for work or make other sacrifices. (I must actually put the word “sacrifice” in quotes because nobody actually ever makes a sacrifice for God!)

As the bhajans continued, Amey joined in the chorus wholeheartedly. He was crying and craving for Swami like never before. After a few bhajans, the light on the stage came on. This was an indication that Swami had come out of the residence and would be arriving shortly.
“Sairam Amey!”
It was an excited shout that awoke Amey from his singing spell. Through his tears, he saw the blur of Utpan.
“Come fast... You have to sing...”
Apart from blurry eyes, his thoughts also became blurry now. What was happening?
“Right now... Come... Before Swami comes on stage...”
Amey could not believe his ears. He got up and realized that he had not worn his Seva Dal scarf. He turned and ran towards his room. That was probably one of the fastest sprints of his life! Wearing the scarf, he came rushing back and plopped amidst the bhajan group. He was panting for breath and the next moment, his breath was taken away completely. The mesmerising form of his beautiful Lord glided on to the stage!

Even as Swami sat on the chair, He looked at Amey and indicated with His eyes that he should sing! Amey’s heart exploded in inexplicable relief but he did not sing that evening. At that point in time, singing did not matter. Swami seemed to have overcome His upset and that was enough!

A shower of blessings

Swami received Arati at the end of that session and returned to Trayee Brindavan, smiling. Amey was keen to know what had happened. So he did not return home but waited for the Trayee Session to get over and for the warden to walk out. What he heard later in the evening relieved him. Swami had seen his passport-sized photo and smilingly remarked,
“No! This is not the boy!”

It was with a smile that Swami had said, "No! This is not the boy."
So, had it been the case of mistaken identity? Amey knew his Swami better than to conclude that way! There obviously had been a lesson for him in the whole episode. It had made him realize and reorganize his priorities in life. It had elicited a promise of him being at Whitefield daily, inspite of whatever else he had to do. If not for the episode, Amey probably would have given 2 days a week to Swami and the remaining 5 to his work.

Thus, Amey was in Brindavan on Monday too. Since he was a member of Swami’s Seva Dal, he could not just enjoy darshan and bhajan. He had to do his duty towards the scarf. Now, this might seem unfair when a person is traveling all the distance from Vijaynagar to come for darshan but is having to do ‘voluntary duty’. But that is how it always is with Swami. Hasn’t He said on innumerable occasions,
“The best way to love God is to love all and serve all” ?
It would be foolish on our part to think that we can serve God without serving the society or nature that we are a part of. Just as the little cell in the human body has to serve the tissue and the organ that it is part of in order to serve the body, we individuals have to serve the society and nature which are nothing but parts of the Cosmic Form of the Lord! Amey knew this much, that him doing his duty sincerely would please Swami. And that is precisely what he did.

On Tuesday, something beautiful happened!

Amey was given the duty of ‘crowd-control’ in Sai Ramesh hall. That meant him sitting in the front lines during darshan to ensure that nobody jumped on to Swami and fell forcefully at His feet. On the face of it, this appears like a wonderful opportunity for darshan. But it actually is not because the volunteer would have to sit facing the devotees. His back would be to Swami and he would actually miss darshan when Swami was closest to him.

That was a very familiar voice which Amey heard. He knew that Swami was right behind him but who was He calling out to.
“I am calling you only!” Swami said and gently tapped him. Amey turned around in a flash and went up on his knees.
“Who told you that I told you not to sing?”
Swami’s face was serious. Amey knew that revealing the name could lead to repercussions for the warden. He just said,
“Please forgive the mistake Swami... “
“Ay! That is not your mistake. You did not do anything wrong. You should sing.”
Swami gave him a broad smile.
“Can I take padanamaskar Swami?”
Swami agreed and Amey kissed His feet reverentially.
Swami then started to walk away. He walked a few steps, stopped and turned.
“But don’t sing THAT bhajan okay?”
Amey nodded and has never sung that bhajan ever since. (There are many bhajans like this which Swami has strongly objected to being sung in His presence. The reason in most of the cases is that it has not been composed with the right feelings and taste.)

Amey nodded and sat back in his place.

Amey had got the most coveted padanamaskar too among several other blessings
from the episode of pain!
Final word

Amey realized that this episode had also granted him a very special shower of blessings. In a matter of a couple of days, Swami had seen his photograph, spoken about him, spoken to him and had given him padanamaskar. An ordinary couple of days had become extraordinary and memorable!

This episode gives us listeners and readers also a great deal of food for thought to chew upon and some insights. The answer to the question,
“How can we love and worship God when we are ourselves in such pain and need?” is that
“It is only in pain and need that we love God and worship Him the most!”

For, let us be honest, how many of us think of Swami when everything is fine and hunky dory? Pangs of pain, trials and tribulations are gifts life gives us to set our priorities right. Wasn’t that the very reason why Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, prayed to Lord Krishna thus:
“Lord, grant me the blessing of suffering all my life because it is only in times of suffering that I think of You. And only that life is a life which is spent in contemplation of You.”

While Maslow’s hierarchy of needs follows a progression when it comes to material needs,  there is a radical break when it turns to spiritual needs. A person who has recognised the Truth that happiness does not lie in the world, does not care for any of the other needs! That is why the prince Siddhartha gave up food, clothing, shelter, security of home and family, his ambitions and self respect to achieve true happiness. True happiness lies in union with God alone. In his later years, Maslow explored a further dimension of needs, while criticizing his own vision on self-actualization.

If you enjoyed reading this story, then please do go to all the underlined hyperlinks of other Amey-Swami experiences embedded in the article! :)

For all readers:

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  1. Sairam Aravind..... we remember to pray to SWAMI only when in a difficult situation / in pain / suffering etc.....instead of accepting or welcoming pain / suffering as means of washing off past karma....thanks a lot for your excellent rendition of Amey's experience. Blessings and Love.

  2. Sincere regards to Amey sir :)travelling 27 KM for service twice a week,inspiring:)

  3. Swamy has said "...Divinity permeates everything. Nobody has a right to say that this is divine and that is not. God is present even in difficulties, sorrow, and misery. Though we have the capacity to understand this divine power, we are unfortunately not able to use that."

    It is not an event alone that creates an experience. It is both the event and our response to that event that creates our experience.

    With humility and surrender, if we see a message from God in that "difficult, sorrowful and miserable" event, our response becomes totally different. We focus on the message and ignore the messenger and we have learnt so well in this blog that "....when the message is delivered the messenger ceases to exist..."

    One can say, "easier said than done" but one would have to look closely- we would often be left in that choiceless state to do anything but to pray, pine and weep and that choiceless state is His Grace for our uplift.

    "....In a matter of a couple of days, Swami had seen his photograph, spoken about him, spoken to him and had given him padanamaskar."

    As one looks closely, Amey was in a choiceless state to receive His Grace. If he had a choice, or if he exercised a choice he could have only settled for less!

  4. beautiful... can understand how Amey brother would have felt first and the joy when Swami spoke to him and wanted him to sing more...

  5. tushar Kanta Nath odisha25 May 2017 at 23:54

    Sai Ram, Can we have the list of such odd bhajan which swami is not happy about? Because This is the first time I could get to know that there are such bhajans which swamy is not happy about. So if anyone can please add on to the list it will be helpful to all. Sai ram

    1. That is a good suggestion but Swami has not publicly said these things. It would be tough to collect... These are all based on individual interactions with the members of the Bhajan Group.

      However, Swami would not like it if any bhajan took the focus away from God because of its complicated rhythms, or musical touches or any other thing. The primary and sole objective of a bhajan is to focus a person on God. Any other thing is a distraction.

      So, though we may not be able to get Swami's list, we can ourselves examine from our hearts various bhajans with this in mind.


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