Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The best gift a parent can seek for a child - Bhakti (devotion)

December 15, 2015

The day turned out to be a landmark one in this lifetime of mine. Poetically speaking, it was the day when a soul in the heavens above decided that Pooja (my wife) and I would be the appropriate beings as its parents in its earthly sojourn. Prosaically speaking, it was the day when I became father to a baby girl. But however prosaically you may state that, the experience is always poetic! I felt a thrill like never before and my first sounds were similar to the ones that the baby made -
The innocence, detachment and purity with which the baby seemed to look at everyone around reminded me so strongly of my dear Swami.  So, the first thing I felt like doing, even before carrying the baby or cuddling her, was to gently touch the lotus feet. Ah! How soft they were and so similar to Swami’s. It was indescribable divine joy.

The baby is the easiest and closest that anyone can come to experiencing the Divine. With a baby, you become like a baby!

As parents, you want to give your child the best things in life. But what is the best thing in life? Both Pooja and I felt that the greatest gift we had received from our parents (and grandparents too in Pooja’s case) was ‘Love For God’. Having love for Swami is the greatest treasure, a bounteous blessing and the most intelligent investment that a parent can gift a child. And so, ever since we had come to know about the baby, all of us at home had the same prayer,
“Swami, let this child be one that will love you with all it’s heart...”

What’s in a name? Everything

Even as the baby grew from a single cell into an embryo, we began discussions on the choice of a name. The name is a very important part of life. It will possibly be the most-heard word for the being and therefore, it is vital that it be something inspirational and aspirational. No wonder that all societies in the world spend considerable time and effort in naming a new-born.

Our plan was to make a list of boy and girl names and then choose the most appealing one. Though we started like that, somewhere along the line the plan got changed into me naming the baby if it was a girl and Pooja naming it if it was a boy. Thus I began focusing on girl names. My pick was “Vibhuti”. Having sought vibhuti, the holy ash from Swami all my student life, I felt it was a perfect name because, more than anything else, it symbolised Swami’s prasadam (a gift blessed by God).

I had this feeling that Pooja was carrying a boy. That is when I discovered that ‘Vibhuti’ is a unisex name! Irrespective of the gender of the baby, ‘Vibhuti’ could be used. One day, I asked Pooja,
“What do you think about the name ‘Vibhuti’?”
She was silent.
“You like it? Or you don’t like it?”
“See, Vibhuti is a unisex name...”
“Exactly my point! If we agree on it, then we needn’t search further...”

She wasn’t in conformity. She wanted a female name for a girl or a male name for a boy. Unisex names didn’t appeal to her.
“We have decided na that if its a girl it's your choice and it's my choice if it's a boy?”
I agreed though I was feeling defeated because of my gut feeling that we were going to have a boy. In that case, Pooja would win the naming rights. Pooja was smiling with a gleam of victory. Intuitively, she also felt that she was carrying a boy and knew that she had already won in the ‘naming choice’.

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Second Coming - Indications of the Sathya Sai Avatar in Christianity

An artist's impression of the second coming of the Christ.
(Actually the advent of the Father of Christ...)
A word on the specialty of Christianity

Being a follower of a Master who emphasizes the unity and divinity of all religions, I go through the various aspects of different religions when their holy days or holidays arrive. So, I spend some time in Christ’s life and teachings whenever it is Christmas, Good Friday or Easter.

Christianity is a fascinating religion in many ways. One of the special things about Christianity is that a lot of information 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 the Gospel according to Luke. None dare say that one is better than the other for each is the Truth in itself and battling by quoting one against the other, we would be like the blind men fighting over their respective descriptions of the elephant!

Munde Munde Matir Bhinnah”, says my Master and God, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba who many lovingly call as Swami. In spirit, this translates into ‘there are as many interpretations of the Truth as there are heads’ because everyone is allowed an opinion. So, when I read through the description and interpretation of the same life of the 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 because ultimately, there is only Truth and nothing else.

The second coming

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?
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 my dear Swami and I know how wonderful, holy, elevating, uplifting, sanctifying and fun Divine company can be. And now that He took Mahasamadhi on Easter Sunday, 2011, I look forward to anything that says anything about Him ‘coming again’!

(My belief that 24th April 2011 is a day of His ‘departure’ was shattered through a miraculous experience that happened exactly an 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 do an internet search for the term, “The Second Coming” and in a span of 0.36 seconds you will see nearly a billion results hit your computer screen! That should suffice to say that it is an intensely discussed and possibly debated topic. There are interpretations galore. Such was the abundance of the interpretations offered that I decided to go to the actual ‘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 Father of Christ or the “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” was so wonderful. (Christ is considered as the son of God by John.)

And here, I shall present these as stated in the Bible and any Sai devotee will immediately grasp the cause of my wonder, thrill and joy. (The relevant passages from the Revelations have been presented in bold.)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Yearning to Learn; Learning to Yearn

An evergreen song - Ek Radha Ek Meera

There is a popular Hindi song comparing the love of two devotees of Lord Krishna, Radha and Meerabai. These two are possibly among Krishna’s greatest devotees. The first few lines go like this:

Ek Radha Ek Meera, Donon Ne Shyaam Ko Chaahaa
Antar Kya Donon Ki Chaah Mein Bolo
Ek Prem Diwaani Ek Darash Diwani

{Radha and Meera, both desired for Krishna.
Tell me what is the difference in their desire?
While one longed for His (physical) love, the other sought to see Him (darshan). }

What makes the song interesting is that Radha was a contemporary of Krishna while Meera lived in an era thousands of years after Krishna’s physical passing. In fact, everything about their lives is different - totally. And yet, what is common is that both achieved their ultimate goal of union with their beloved. That should be an inspiration for us because it shows no matter how different we are in the way we love God, we all are equally capable of achieving Him. What matters is how we yearn for Him ALONE. There are many instances of yearning for God being more important than experiences with God and this post will be an extension of those thoughts.

Hear the beautiful song in the golden voice of Lata Mangeshkar.

Personally, the song brings solace to my heart that pines for and misses the physical form of my Sathya Sai Krishna, my Swami. It encourages me to keep the flame of yearning going with the oil of devotion till the wick of my body burns away. It soothes me with the assurance that though all do not get the opportunity to be a ‘Radha’, everyone can grab the opportunity to be a ‘Meera’.

Every now and then, it is not uncommon for me to feel a spiritual void, a disconnect with my Swami within. At such times, I try to focus on Swami in everything I do. Like a faithful dog, I stand barking at the door of my Master, refusing to lick the juicy tidbits He throws me because I know that when all else fails, He will surely come out of the door and pat me. It is one such experience post the ‘Mahasamadhi’ of Baba that I would like to share.

The void

It had been several weeks since Swami had come in my dreams. It had been nearly a month since vibhuti manifested in the altar at home. Of course, my work at Radiosai involved seeing videos of Him, hearing His discourses and thinking about Him. And yet, I was feeling a void. I realized that while with yearning and personal sadhana, work becomes worship, without them even worship becomes a work! Thus I felt that I need to pine more for Him.

I confided into my wife, Pooja, and told her that I was missing Swami a lot.
“It was so easy when He was here. Why did He have to leave?” I asked her rhetorically.
“Swami knows best”, she replied before encouraging me, “the very fact that you are yearning for Him is a blessing from Him. Be grateful and keep praying.”
“Sane advice indeed but it does not help my crying heart...”
“If you love Swami, instead of just feeling for Him start doing something for Him”, she egged me on.
“I am doing many things right...”
“But you still are not satisfied” she cut me, “then do more for Him. See, I am planning to do a week long Sai Satcharitra reading.”
“Where do you have the time?”, I asked wonderingly because she would have to manage our daughter Bhakti at home apart from the 7 hours she would have to put into the work-from-home job.
“I will make time...”

Friday, 11 November 2016

Sai's Geeta - the extraordinary tale of an elephant that rose to the level of God

Sai Geeta's relationship with Bhagawan was beyond that of the love
between a pet and the master.
The Extra Sensory Perception of an elephant

It was life as usual in the Sri Sathya Sai Senior Boys’ Hostel, one fine day in the early 1990s. As the students were getting ready to go to college for the noon session, they heard ‘the alarm’. It was the trumpeting of Sai Geeta, the pet elephant of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who was residing in a huge vaulted roofed enclosure right in front of the Senior Boys’ Hostel. The excited trumpeting could only mean one thing - their Swami was headed that way!

As they rushed out of the hostel, they saw Geeta rushing towards the gate and had it not been for her caretaker, she would have crushed it. She was out on the road even before the boys lined up. She seemed unduly excited that day, making it difficult for her mahout to hold her in check. Swami’s car approached and Sai Geetha moved forward. Instead of raising her trunk in her customary salute, she rested it heavily on the bonnet of the car, effectively blocking its progress.

The glass window beside Swami slid down noiselessly and before anyone could crowd around, her trunk slickly slid off the bonnet into the window and ever so gently touched Swami’s cheek and hair. Swami stepped out of the car and immediately the flapping ears stilled to a gentle wave. She undulated backward as Swami moved towards her, murmuring endearments while her trunk reached to caress His feet. He touched her and the ones closest could see a ripple run across her huge frame as she rejoiced at the blessing.

“Come on Geetha, I have to go,” He said, patting her trunk.
She protested softly and her trunk rose to lie on the bonnet again. It was a very loud “No!”
“I want to go Geetha, come on, come on, move,” said Swami, reaching up to stroke her cheek. And suddenly a diamond glistened, a dew drop that was the coalescence of her love for Him, a silent expression of her feelings: a tear found its way down the very cheek upon which His hand rested.

“Okay, okay, I will not go!” said Swami sympathetically.
Immediately the ears moved a whisker. She had not stirred an inch. Perhaps she did not want to break the contact.
“Will you go back if I return to the ashram?” asked Swami.
She stepped back a fraction – but only a fraction - her trunk still lay on the bonnet.
“Okay, okay, I will not go, I am going back to the ashram. Are you happy?” He asked her.
She visibly trembled with joy and replied in her own language in the affirmative. He, of course, understood.

“Good girl, good girl,” said Swami. Then turning to all the students gathered there, He announced,
“I had planned to go to Brindavan (Bangalore ashram) today. She knew it, she sensed it. She somehow figured out Swami was leaving and she was crying, Paapam (poor thing)!”

Friday, 28 October 2016

Choose God and God chooses you - Dr. Raghunath Sarma's life experience -Part 4

The interview

Bhagawan returned to Brindavan from Kodaikanal with the entourage of students. Raghu was among the few students blessed to stay in the special accommodation beside Swami’s residence, Trayee Brindavan. The ‘Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality’ would be starting soon and this ‘privileged accommodation’ served to smoothen the transition from the Kodai life to normal life.

Raghu was in for a surprise as his entire family landed in Brindavan one fine day.
“We felt like having darshan and also seeing you. So, we came. Please tell Swami to grant us an interview...”
“Woah! Do you think it is that simple?” Raghu asked incredulously. There was no answer but Raghu realized that his going to Kodaikanal had raised the hopes of his parents who had several worries which, according to them, only Swami could solve.
“Okay, I shall ask”, Raghu said. He had nothing to lose.
The next day, during darshan Raghu got up on his knees and told Swami that his parents had come to Brindavan. Swami casually told him to go in for an interview! It had indeed turned out to be quite simple.

It was a special thrill for Raghu’s father who was speaking to Swami after nearly 3 decades. But the way Swami spoke with love and trust, it felt as though they had been in touch on a daily basis. (Isn’t that the truth anyway? We are always in touch with God directly. It’s just that we refuse to acknowledge or try some roundabout way of seeking him.) Swami assured the parents on all the different issues that were bothering them. They seemed comforted and had just one more issue. Raghu’s brother had not fared well in the undergraduate exams and it was doubtful whether he would get a seat for post graduation in Swami’s University.
“Swami”, the mother prayed about Raghu’s brother Vishwanath Sarma, “what about his younger brother?”
“The University is meant for you”, Swami assured, “but then, there are some rules and regulations that have to be followed.”

Everyone understood what Swami was saying. He didn’t want people to mix issues of admission in the University and relationship with Him. But the mother persisted,
“What about his future Swami? What will happen to him?”
That was when Swami made a statement that all of us ought to enshrine in our hearts.
“See, he has acted in several dramas. He has donned the roles of Ravana and Yama and given me great joy. When someone gives me even the minutest of joys (showing the tip of His fingernail), can his life be anything other than good and prosperous?”

In that question, Swami had given a beautiful assurance and a powerful message. All that one has to do is please God. Then, goodness and success are bound to come. (It is interesting to note that Vishwanath Sarma went on to complete MBA and was the first among his siblings to get a job. After working successfully in several MNCs, he is currently working as a senior manager in Capgemini,  a global leader in consulting, technology and outsourcing services.)

{This is the final part of a 4-part story. Enjoy it to the fullest after reading the first three parts.

The parents were overjoyed. That was when Swami asked pointing to Raghu,
Veedi katha emi? (What about this fellow?)”
The mother spontaneously replied,
"We do not think about him anymore as we have given him away to You. He is Yours as he has been so far."
It is a practice in many families in India where one child is offered to God. This usually is the child with the maximum spiritual aptitude. As the mother stated this, a broad smile came on Swami’s face. He seemed very thrilled to accept Raghu as his own. For Raghu, things seemed moving too fast. He had not anticipated any of these things happening. At every stage of his life he had made great efforts to choose God. Finally, it felt like God had embraced and accepted him completely.  
“What will you do?” Swami asked Raghu.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Choose heart over head, God over world - Dr. Raghunath Sarma's life experience - Part 3

Overcoming the dilemma at Puttaparthi

Raghu reported at the Prasanthi Nilayam campus of the University to pursue his final year of BSc(Hons) in Mathematics. He was pleased to be in the physical presence of Swami. Swami continued to refer to him as the ‘hunter’ and spoke to him every now and then. Raghu’s form seemed to continue. However, the demon of doubt was soon coming at his doorstep.

Midway through the year, many students began to discuss matters regarding their future and careers.  It is usually the ‘privilege’ of brighter students in the class that get into such discussions because they feel that it is their right to do so. The academically weaker ones seem ‘content’ in taking up whatever comes their way. Raghu was also among the ‘academically ahead’ because he had been freed from English as a subject and he scored well in all the other Mathematics papers.

From a spiritual perspective, greater aspirations and desires can often be disadvantageous. For, after all, isn’t ‘contentment’ (whatever be the reason for it) a measure of spiritual advancement and ‘desire’, a spiritual lacking?

Raghu found himself in the horns of a dilemma - should he pursue the MSc degree like an ‘academically-average’ student or, like the ‘academically advanced’ student pursue professional degrees in institutions like the IITs? It was a battle between the mind and the heart. His mind told him that he should not restrict the glory he could achieve by choosing to do MSc while his heart told him that he shouldn’t give up the greatest good fortune of his life for the sake of some paltry glory. He was troubled a lot between the two opposite extremes.

{This is the third part of this beautiful life-experience. It would be a good idea to continue reading it after completing the first two parts at the links below.
PART 1:- Choose God Choose Life - Dr.Raghunath Sarma's life experiences_Part 1

PART 2:- Choose God Choose Light - Dr.Raghunath Sarma's life experiences_Part 2 }

Raghu applied to about half a dozen professional courses in various institutions. However, every time he got the call-letter, his heart couldn’t bear going away from Swami. So, without thinking much, he would tear up the call letter and not go to write the entrance examination. He reached the shores of MSc in Puttaparthi not by confidently walking across the bridge but by burning the bridge behind him so that he has no other option. During his first darshan in the MSc days, Swami looked at Raghu and said,
Dunnapota... Dunnapota... Dunnapota” (Buffalo... buffalo... buffalo)
The twinkle of mischief with which Swami used this term of endearment convinced Raghu that He knew all the mental agony he had gone through to arrive at the decision to continue MSc in Puttaparthi. Raghu was happy that he had pleased Swami with his choice.

Being wedded to God

It appears as though God is not happy if one ‘burns bridges’ to get to the right shore because it shows the ‘suppression of desires’. God wants the ‘separation of desires’ instead. He does not like someone choosing Him by being in a position of no choice. God should be the conscious choice of a devotee.  And God gives multiple opportunities for the devotee to make that choice.

One day, Swami came to Raghu and asked,
“Who is your Bharta (husband)? Tell me... Enquire and tell me...”
Raghu was taken aback. He had seen Swami cracking jokes with a few students asking them who their wife was. But this was a strange question. He simply kept quiet at first. But Swami did not move on and it was evident that He expected an answer. Raghu began to ponder on it because he knew that Swami does not say anything without a meaning.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Choose God Choose Light - Dr.Raghunath Sarma's life experiences_Part 2

Sri Sathya Sai in Pamidi

It was in the September of 1944 that Swami first visited Pamidi in the Gooty taluk. In those days, Pamidi was a little town on the northern bank of the Penna river. It was known as a commercial centre but was very much grounded in the Bharatiya culture and heritage. Swami actually visited the little towns of Illuru and Kallur which lie very close to Pamidi. At Illuru, He stayed at the home of the Karanam (government accounts officer in the British Raj), Adi Narayana Rao who was related to the Karanam at Puttaparthi. So many amazing things happened during this visit and it is beyond the scope of this story to capture all of them. We will be sticking to the story to which Swami had referred to while speaking with Raghu - the Divine visit to his home!

Swami was granting interviews to many people in Pamidi at the home of a merchant, Ramathulasi. While speaking to Raghu in 1987, Swami had asked him,
“Do you know Ramathulasi?”
The connect came because it was at this home that Raghu’s paternal grandfather, Rachakonda Venkataramiah, a renowned scholar, had darshan. He observed that the people who had gathered at Ramathulasi’s house were asking Swami for ‘petty worldly things’. He chastised them saying that they should ask only for spiritual wisdom. Even as he was speaking to them, word came that Swami was asking for a certain Venkataramiah!

This is how Swami looked when He visited Pamidi. This is a picture taken at Anantapur,
at the residence of Sri Chidambaraiah (reference in story).

Venkataramiah was surprised. But then, his name was always taken in respect in that region. In fact, out of respect for the knowledge he embodied and the orthodox rituals he observed, while passing in front of his house, people would stop, take out their slippers and walk barefoot carrying the slippers in their hands. It was possible that Swami had heard about him.
“Please repeat what you were speaking outside respected Venkataramaniah”, Swami asked.
“Swami, I would prefer a spiritual discourse to any material gift or interview. That is what I expressed.”
“I shall come to your home for lunch and fulfill your wish,” Swami promised.
That was what had led to the Divine visit to his ancestral home. Raghu’s father had been barely 10 years of age when Swami came home and discoursed on the early life of Shirdi Baba. No wonder that Swami told Raghu that his mother was not there when He visited the house.

{Came here directly without reading Part 1? Maybe it would be a good idea to read that first before reading this.

PART 1: Choose God Choose Life - Dr.Raghunath Sarma's life experiences_Part 1 }

Baba then took devotees to the Penna riverbed and materialized several idols from the sands there. The devotees were excited when he pulled out hot jalebis from the sand and distributed them as prasadam. When they examined the jalebis to ensure that there was no sand sticking, Swami seemed to exasperatedly ask,
“When I can elicit fresh jalebis from the sand, you think I wouldn’t have ensured that there are no sand particles sticking to them?”
He also pointed to a region of the river and said that a bridge connecting Pamidi to Kallur would come up there. People did not believe him because there was already a bridge existing across the river. Why would anyone want a second bridge for the same purpose?
“I am telling you honestly. I won’t lie. My words will always come true”, Swami cajoled and tried to convince them before returning from the sands.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Choose God Choose Life - Dr.Raghunath Sarma's life experiences_Part 1

Thirst at first sight

In the summer of 1986, Raghunath Sarma, an exuberant sixteen year old, travelled from his hometown Pamidi to Puttaparthi with the desire to have a darshan of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He was accompanied by his sister. Swami, as Baba had been introduced to him, was a permanent fixture in his home shrine. Raghu had seen His picture since childhood and knew that his father made at least annual visits to see Him in Puttaparthi. It was surprising that Raghu had not yet been to Puttaparthi.

His heart began to beat faster even as he entered the holy sands within the compound of the Prasanthi Nilayam mandir. His mind stilled with the silence that pervaded the atmosphere. The birds were chirping in the trees above. Raghu’s spirits too seemed to soar with them, singing about happily. He understood why the place had been named Prasanthi Nilayam - the abode of Supreme Peace. It was very difficult for someone to not be peaceful in such environs.

Minutes later, a hush seemed to travel through the crowd. There were a few gasps of excitement as a figure in orange entered the sands from the portico of the mandir. Swami had come and the darshan had begun. Raghu was seated in the first line and he could feel divine energy pulsating within. It grew stronger as Swami came close. Finally, when Swami was right before him, Raghu did not know what happened. He was trembling and shaking. Tears were effortlessly flowing down his eyes. His heart was overwhelmed with the sight that his eyes were drinking in. He cried out,
“Swami... Swami...”
Swami gently patted his head and said,
Bangaru, Aedcha Vaddu (Dear one, you shouldn’t cry).”

Raghu wanted to obey. He wanted to do anything and everything that this beautiful being was telling him. But he just couldn’t help it. Tears continued to flow down his cheeks and onto the lotus feet of Swami as he took padanamaskar. Swami seemed to float away on His darshan rounds. Raghu caressed the sands on which Swami’s feet had left temporary impressions. He also treasured in his heart the permanent impressions that Swami had created.

That would only be the first of many such darshans in life for Raghu. (seen here sitting
second behind Swami in full-arm shirt and seeing Swami's feet).

Raghu then turned to see the interactions between Swami and the students of His educational institutions. He yearned to sit among them and win Swami’s proximity.
“I must be here with Swami... I must study here as a student”, he thought as he left Puttaparthi, heading back towards Pamidi.