Monday, 1 February 2016

The Three Zeroes - a short story on God and Devotee

A sleepless night

Prasanna sat at the altar, tears streaming from his eyes. Though the ticking clock announced the time as 2:30 in the wee hours of the morning, he was wide awake. There was a gnawing emptiness in his heart that did not seem to go away irrespective of what he did. He looked at the golden framed picture that formed the centerpiece in his altar. It was a photograph of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba taken by his great grandfather, more than hundred years ago, in 1990.

It had been almost seventy years since Baba had given up the physical frame and Prasanna had come to know Him most intimately only through the stories told to him by his grandparents. His parents too had shared many of their own experiences of Baba’s omnipresence and omniscience with him. These were incidents that occurred after the Mahasamadhi - the giving up of the Physical - of Baba on 24th April 2011. And of course, Prasanna had also had his own share of miracles in his life which had convinced him of the divinity of this being in orange. But what he sought today was something beyond all that.

Swami looked vibrant and alive in the photograph. He had that all-knowing smile on His face and His eyes followed Prasanna wherever he moved in the room. They seemed to look deep into his own eyes, into the very core of his being.
“Swami, you know the innermost recesses of my heart. You know me better than I know myself. Then, why this cruelty? Won’t you come to me and put an end to these pangs of suffering?”

He burst into loud sobs after that. Prasanna was unable to bear it any longer.

A name that perfectly reflected his life?

“The baby shall be called Sathya Sai Prasanna to indicate that his Lord, Sri Sathya Sai, is and will be, happy with him always...”
Having pronounced that, the priest had instructed the father to write the full name in a plate of uncooked rice with a golden ring. The baby thus was christened Sathya Sai Prasanna and though his parents called him ‘little Sai’, he became ‘Prasanna’ for the rest of the world. Even from his birth, Prasanna’s life seemed to perfectly mirror what his name said.

He had been a child of extraordinary skills and talents. Early in life itself, he became a delight for his parents. Apart from being a brilliant student and having a natural flair for excelling in sports and games, Prasanna also was a music maestro and learned to play almost a dozen instruments with ease. Naturally, he was the crest jewel of the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School and, later, went on to become the unrivalled all-round champion of the Sri Sathya Sai University. Today, he was the CEO of Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, India’s largest company which specialized in all matters pertaining to the creation and sustenance of renewable energy. His yeoman contribution had won him dozens of awards including the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award.

Yet, he was an epitome of humility and service. He was among the world’s leading philanthropists and had already pledged billions of Rupees (which had replaced the Dollar as the world’s reserve currency) for the causes of Educare and Medicare which were very close to his Swami’s heart. Such was his large-heartedness that he seemed to have no enemies at all. There had not been a single article in the media that portrayed him in a negative light. Nobody in his family tree was jealous of him as he never strutted about with his power, wealth or eminence. He had married his childhood friend with whom he shared a common first priority - Swami. He was a father to two healthy children - a boy and a girl - though he indirectly fathered more than ten thousand children through a network of orphanages all over the world.

In short, Prasanna was an example for what anyone would call as ‘the dream life of happiness’. But he was not happy!

As his wife and children slept in their own palatial rooms, Prasanna continued crying at the altar.
“Swami, I have nothing but emptiness in my life. Please come and grant me the gift I seek. Do not withhold it from me any longer. I am waiting...”
He was now speaking loudly for he felt that his Lord had been deaf to his entreaties all his life.
“Why am I so unlucky to not deserve your blessings Swami? Am I asking for too much? Happiness, as you say, comes only from union with God. Please give me happiness... Please give Yourself unto me...”

God responds

Sri Sathya Sai smiled. Sitting on the golden throne of devotion in the grand palace of the heart, He knew that it was time now. He got up to go. Even as He was about to set out, He was accosted by Mind (Manas).
“Sairam Swami...”
“Sairam Manas...Kurcho, sit down now for am in a hurry. I shall soon be back.”
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
“I have decided to go to Prasanna and end the deprivation he is facing in life...”

Mind had been following Prasanna’s life ever since it began in the mother’s womb. In fact, Mind had been following each and every life that had ever taken birth in the womb of time.  
“I feel this is very unfair Master...”
Baba stopped in His tracks.
“What is unfair Manas?”
“What you are about to do... You have blessed Prasanna with such abundance. Yet, instead of expressing gratitude and joy, he just keeps crying everyday. You should not pamper him so much.”
“But Manas, I always pamper everyone.”
“I am sorry Swami but I beg to differ. As far as I am concerned, you are being too partial to Prasanna... at least in comparison to Kuber, what you are doing for Prasanna is a bit too much...”
“Ay Dunnapota! Don’t bring up Kuber without knowing of what I did for him.”
“Forgive me Lord but I feel you did not do anything for him... “

Flashback: 1955 - The first zero

All it took was a moment of silence for Manas to quickly go through the life of Kuber. Swami needed no time at all but He waited for Manas to complete the flashback.

Kuber had been aptly named after the Indian God of wealth because he was the only legal heir in a family of billionaires. But then, his life had been an epitome of a ‘riches to rags’ story. Not that Kuber had cared. Unknown to the media that extensively covered how he plummeted down the list of billionaires into the list of millionaires before bowing out into obscurity, Kuber sought only one thing in his life - God. And because of that, he seemed to turn a blind eye to all the different ways in which his partners, clients, well-wishers and even family members took him for a ride with an eye on his wealth. He was aware of him getting looted but he did not care because he felt that true wealth lay in getting to know God alone. His story, after he was relegated to obscurity, was known to Manas alone. He never gave up his quest and pining for God till his death. When death came in the end, Kuber felt he was a pauper not because he didn’t have a cowrie pie but because he had not got a glimpse of the God he sought.

Kuber seemed to die out of a poverty of God's grace than the loss of wealth.
“You were there in your Physical form on earth at that time Swami... Why didn’t you call Kuber to yourself?” Manas seemed to burn with curiosity to know what reasoning Baba would have.
“There is a reason for everything Manas. But I am afraid it might be too much for you to comprehend.”
“Please try to explain to me Swami... please give a chance to try and understand...”
“ Whenever a devotee tells me that he wants me and me alone, I want to check whether he really means it. That is why I use the three zeroes. Kuber was subjected to the first zero Manas - the zero of wealth and possessions. If a devotee truly seeks God alone, then, in spite of the deprivation of the basic necessities of life - food, clothing and shelter, he should still cling to His lotus feet and call out for Him.”

Manas did not give up.
“So, can someone who is wealthy never attain you?”
“It is not about possessing wealth but about wealth possessing you!”
“But Lord, did not Kuber always call out to you? Even when he was so wealthy?”
“It is easy to be detached from wealth and riches when one is wealthy. That is Udaara Vairagya  - detachment due to a temporary abundance which will disappear once the object of attachment becomes scarce. To ensure that it is true detachment to wealth and attachment to God, I have to deprive him completely.”
“But after doing that also, you did not call him to yourself?”

Flashback: 1980 - The second zero

Swami only smiled at this and Manas felt that it had scored a point over the Lord.
“Leave Kuber Swami. What about Maithri’s case?”
“What about it?”
Once again, there was a moment of silence for Manas to quickly go through the Maithri’s life.

Maithri also had been a girl who seemed to have been named perfectly - a very friendly and loving being. She too, like Kuber, had only one goal in her life - to get God. She had a wonderful family and lots of friends. But that was only the beginning. Her life had had turned out to be one continuous spiral to a nadir that few people ever touch in their lives. While returning from a family vacation, the bus had met with a terrible accident. What everyone considered as a stroke of fortune felt like the greatest misfortune for Maithri because she was the sole survivor of the accident! In one single moment, most of her extended family too had been wiped off the face of earth. It was only her faith and pining for God that made life worthwhile for Maithri.  Her friends then found her a life partner and helped in conducting her marriage. But then, her husband’s profession took her away from her friends and connections in India to faraway Dubai. A newborn baby brought temporary connection with the world. However, fate was such that her husband left her to marry his childhood lover. Added to that, he fought for custody of the child and won it too in the male-dominant society of the Middle-East.

Maithri was forced to become a recluse. But she did not complain for she sought only God in her life. Though she had been born surrounded by family and friends, she died all alone!

“At least you could have called Maithri unto yourself Swami!” Manas almost commanded instead of suggesting.
“Manas, Maithri was subjected to the second zero - being cut off from all kith, kin and friends. She always sought God alone. But I wanted to see if she would seek Me even when was all alone. Would it be solitude or loneliness? The devotee must seek God alone even when life seems unfair and no one seems to care!”

Maithri lost everyone but she sought only God. Yet, why didn't she get Him?
“Didn’t she pass this cruel test of yours? Then, why didn't she get the opportunity to travel back to Puttaparthi and have your darshan?”
Again, Swami only smiled at Manas with no answer forthcoming.

Flashback: 2010 - The third zero

“Swami, if you are tongue-tied with Kuber and Maithri, I wonder what you will say about Vibhuti! My heart bleeds for her... You seem to enjoy making ironies of names. Vibhuti is a name set for the greatest glories but what ignominy she suffered!”
For possibly that final time, Manas went through another life history.

Vibhuti grew up in an orphanage. She showed an exceptional liking and aptitude for music in general and devotional music in particular. The orphanage got her enrolled under a music Guru and she progressed rapidly. In quick time she got attached to the magnificent Padmanabhaswamy temple at as the Aasthaana Vidwan (the in-house ‘musical scholar’). She was most blissful singing for the Lord because she pined for the Lord alone. Such was her devotion and dedication that she would be allowed even into the sanctum to sing. This led to two kinds of reactions from the world. While there were those that admired her love for God, there were others who were convinced that she was just ‘using’ God to grow in her fame; that she definitely had an ulterior motive in becoming a singer at the temple rather than exploiting her talents in the film industry possibly. In fact, the revered chief priest was among the foremost who was jealous of her. He hatched a plot wherein he stole the all the jewels adorning the Lord and placed the blame squarely on Vibhuti’s shoulders. It is said that even as Truth is wearing its shoes, Lie travels around the world. That was precisely what happened and the sudden fall of grace began for Vibhuti. She was indicted in court in a case that made it to all forms of media. After all, doesn't the media relish such gossip alone? Vibhuti made no efforts to defend herself. She knew that nothing happened without the Lord’s will. She didn’t care for ‘justice’ or clearing her name which had got tainted. She was handed imprisonment for 20 years but she didn’t last that long. Sorrow killed her before that. But it was not the sorrow of her name being tarnished and she being wronged. She missed her Lord and was depressed that she didn't get Him!

Were Vibhuti's tears all in vain? Could not God see her pining and love? Why then did he allow her dignity to be lost?
Manas continued its jibes to Swami.
“Well, whether you cared for Kuber or Maithri, Vibhuti definitely deserved at least one darshan... Don’t you think so?”
“Dear Manas! Vibhuti shone in all her splendour passing through the fires of the toughest zero, the third zero. The thing that is most important for any being is self-esteem. One’s self-respect and self-concept is dearer than life itself. That’s why many people give up their lives but not their self-respect. I wanted to see if I was dearer to Vibhuti than her self-respect...”
“Are you convinced that she held you as the dearest...”
“Absolutely Manas. There can be no doubt about it.”
“Swami, forgive me, but don’t you think that your realization is a little late?”
“I am not controlled by time; I control time. It’s never too late with me. It is always the perfect timing.”

God’s Partiality explained

“Excuse me now Manas. It is time for you to mind your own business and for me to set on my mission...”
“Oh! You mean going to grant darshan for that Prasanna?”
“Delightfully correct for once...”
“What about checking him for the three zeroes? He seems to be blessed with three infinities - no lack of wealth, no dearth of near and dear ones, no shortage on the self-esteem front either...”
“No. I know that he gives zero value for all the three. There is no need for any test...”
“That is why you appear partial Lord! You have different rules for different people and no logic behind the rules! You do as you please. Agreed that you are the supreme... but does that mean that you start playing God like this?”

With an understanding smile, Swami replied,
"Oh Manas! You will not understand the nature of Sai or His love now, nor will you ever understand. It is because none can comprehend me in my true form; that I have come down to your level to be with you, talk to you, and love you as your friend. But then, do not limit me to be just this - I have my own master plan.”

With that, Sri Sathya Sai just parted the veil of Maya so that Manas could glimpse at the Truth.
“Dear one, having cleared the three zeroes as Kuber, Maithri and Vibhuti, the soul has donned the name and form of Prasanna. It cares not for anything of the world. It has learned already that true happiness comes only in union with God because everything else is temporary. The soul’s sole purpose is me and I need no further convincing. Do you?”

Mind can never adequately comprehend Divine Love.
Mind was stilled instantly. In the depths of that silence, Manas understood everything. The voice of God became crystal clear. Sai’s love oozed from the eyes and filled Manas.
“Lord, now I understand the import a stanza of the Bhaja Govindam -

Maa Kuru Dhana Jana Youvana Garvam
Harathi Nimeshaat Kalah Sarvam
{Don’t be proud of your wealth (first zero), relationships (second zero), youthful splendour (third zero) for time can steal it away in just a moment.}

We have to realize that all these are illusionary and thence enter the path of Brahman!”

Swami was gone. There was nothing else to be said. Sathya Sai Prasanna had truly lived up to his name just as Kuber, Maithri and Vibhuti had lived up to theirs.

For those that love listening, here is a Satsangh based on this story. :)

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  1. This is an Universal Truth story in addition to the fact based story which I got on Radio Sai site named "WORLDLY PLEASURES ARE LIKE A SERPENT’S GRIP"...Unique his ways to teach lessons...Sairam

  2. A profound lesson, wonderfully told by you, Arvind. Thank you so much.

  3. haaa!!!! Profound! but Brother, when certain tests are put forth to us, we always think its because of our past karma! how to comprehend that HE is watching and playing?

  4. Thank you Arvind. I wait for your posts! Read them daily before going to bed. I have experienced Swami's love through your blog. Sai Ram Uma

  5. Sairam Aravind... a mind blowing effort from your pen in your first attempt of fiction...inspired by inner SWAMI within you. Thanks a lot and best wishes...
    Nori Madhusudanvithal

  6. Sai Ram Aravind ji... How does this story show the compassion of God? Why must Swami demand so much when he knows that all we seek is him? Where are the 100 steps that God makes towards us when we become burdened by sorrow in our journey as a seeker? How can I recognize Swami's hand in all this?

    Thank you for your clarity and inspiration :)

    1. Sairam sister Neisha,

      The question you ask is very deep. I say so because on the surface, it appears like God is pretty cruel and possessive. But the answer is there in the words you have written yourself.

      God knows what we seek. But, we don't know what we are seeking actually. For instance, we seek a good job... a good spouse... Why? Because, we think, ultimately that will give happiness. But instead of asking directly for happiness, we ask for things that we think will make us happy. And then, when we 'ask for God' too, we make this mistake because we have a wrong idea of what it means to 'get God'.

      Please think yourself what do you mean by 'getting God' or 'wanting God'. Do you think that sitting at Swami's feet, doing paadaseva is the ultimate thing you seek? Can you say,
      "Swami let me be at your lotus feet and I want nothing else?"

      We think that would definitely be a good thing to say. But, within a few minutes of pressing His feet, our hands begin to pain. We seek rest. Within a couple of hours, we are hungry and we want food more than Swami! Even if we resist hunger, the call of nature - the urge to go to the restroom - comes in another couple of hours and suddenly, the restroom is more magical than being at His feet!

      So you see, what we consider as 'being with God' is not actual being with God. One can be with God only when one transcends the body and mind. And when one transcends the body and mind - the 'pains, travails and sufferings' of the world mean nothing because they affect ONLY the body and mind. So, when Swami 'tests' us with the 3 zeroes, He is actually gifting us the grandest gift - to get true happiness (which is union with God) which comes only when we move beyond mind and body.

      Hope you are able to understand the way I am putting this. You have really asked a wonderful question.

    2. Thank you Aravind ji!
      You're absolutely right! He only wants us to reach that stage in our seeking when we become one with him. He is pushing us towards that ultimate goal.

  7. Sairam, i enjoyed Sis Neishas question and the answer given... So clearly explained.

    1. The heading clearly states - "Short Story". The story is set in 2090.... So, I guess its pretty obvious that it is fiction. But the lessons and messages are not!

  8. Beautifully written and a little spine-tingling!

  9. Very beautiful story brother. Jai Sai Ram.


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