Friday, 31 March 2017

The value of Darshan - a lesson learned at Tirupati

East is east, west is west and the twain shall never meet

Ever since I found my God and Master in Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, I have never felt the need or desire to go on any kind of pilgrimage or visit any temple. It is not that I haven’t been to any temple or houses of worship. But, I have never visited them with the intention to ‘propitiate’ any God or deity. For instance, I have visited the Badrinath temple because my Swami has been there. I have been to the temple at Kedarnath because I love being in the Himalayas. I have gone multiple times to Lepakshi (45 kms from Puttaparthi) because of my love for architecture and history. Having gone to these places, I reverentially bow down to the deity knowing that my salutations are reaching Swami. However, I have never been to any temple with the aim of ‘bowing down to the deity’.

Lord Venkateshwara of Tirumala (Tirupati).

Thus it was that I never visited the world famous shrine at Tirumala (Tirupati) though it is less than 225 kms away from Puttaparthi. I did not find any reason to do so (nature, history, architecture etc) and I wasn’t prepared to go there only to ‘offer obeisance’ to Lord Balaji (Lord Venkateshwara). That apart, I also had several reservations against the Tirupati shrine based on what I had heard from people.
  1. Stand in line for hours to go and see God.
  2. Pay money to buy a ‘darshan ticket’ and have a quicker darshan route.
  3. Get pushed away right in front of the sanctum by temple authorities trying to speed up the lines.
  4. Pay to buy Prasadam.
The fact that Tirupati is the richest temple in the world based on donations it receives added to my hesitation to go there. (Somehow there is a bias that lots of money breeds evil. As our great epic Mahabharata shows, money and power are not the root causes for evil; the greed for money and power are. And there is a big difference in owning money/power and being greedy for money/power.)

That apart, whenever I thought of Tirupati, I was reminded of the incident wherein Sri N Kasturi (Swami’s biographer) wanted to visit Tirupati because it was his family deity. Swami had asked him then,
“Why Kasturi? Don’t you have the faith that the prayers you have placed at my feet have also reached the feet of Lord Venkateshwara?”

So, whenever my wife Pooja broached the subject of going to Tirupati, I would hardly evince any interest. After my daughter Bhakti was born, Pooja wanted to make a visit to Tirupati and I had simply asked,
“Why? Isn’t seeking Swami’s blessings in Prasanthi Nilayam enough?”
She had her reasons and I had mine but the twain would never meet.

The passport to Tirupati

We decided to apply for a passport for Bhakti. Having filled everything online, we found out that the nearest PSK (Passport Seva Kendra) for Puttaparthi was (yeah, you guessed it right), Tirupati!

“We will have to go to Tirupati for Bhakti’s passport. We should have darshan”, Pooja said.
I agreed. I felt that it would be arrogance on my part and an insult to Lord Venkateshwara if I went to Tirupati and didn’t have darshan in the temple at Tirumala.
“But we will stay there only for a day. Let us not forget that we are going for Bhakti’s passport.”
I wanted my Swami to know that I was fiercely loyal. I was going to Tirupati only because of the passport. The darshan was just incidental.
Pooja told me that she would be booking the ‘300 Rs ticket’ because it would be very difficult to have darshan along with Bhakti in the general queue.She did not want me to argue about it and I wisely kept quiet. I told Swami in my heart,
“Swami, I am not booking any tickets. My wife is doing of her own volition. I am loyal to you alone!”

The passport appointment was made, darshan tickets booked and hotel rooms reserved. We drove to Tirupati on Sunday, 12th March 2017.

Welcome delight

Beauty and divinity radiate from Lord Venkateshwara. This picture was taken in
the Shanti Vedika, Sri Sathya Sai Hill View Stadium during the
Sahasra Poorna Chandra Darshanam (completion of  seeing thousand full moons
in one's life) of Bhagawan Baba. 
It was around 5:30 pm when we reached a place called Sreenivasa Mangapuram, 12 kms away from Tirupati. We drove into the temple compound, parked the car and went in for darshan. Just before we entered the temple, we witnessed a little procession of the Utsava Moorthis, the processional idols. Seeing the Arati, we walked into the main shrine. There were about 40-50 people standing in a queue and so, within 15 minutes, we were face to face with an exquisitely beautiful idol of Lord Balaji. I was overwhelmed with the beauty and divinity that seemed to radiate all around. I had Bhakti in my arms but I could feel Bhakti in my heart too!

It was only later that I got to know, Srinivasa Mangapuram is no ordinary temple. The deity here  is replica of Tirumala deity, larger in fact. It is one of the 5 most important temples of Tirupati. It was a stroke of great good luck that we did not face any crowds. I was grateful to Swami for the beautiful experience. It had softened me a bit.

We checked into a comfortable hotel room for the night. It was going to be a big day tomorrow with visits scheduled to the passport office and to the Tirumala shrine.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The pilgrimage to Prasanthi Nilayam - a very special private discourse

The 3 stages of a pilgrimage

A journey or search with a spiritual significance and meaning is a pilgrimage. Frankly speaking, I cannot think of any other reason why anyone would want to visit Prasanthi Nilayam on a regular basis. If one comes as a tourist to enjoy a vacation, one is bound to get bored very soon. If one comes as a seeker of worldly comfort, one is bound to get disappointed. If one comes out of curiosity, he/she will leave once that curiosity is satiated. But if one has the slightest inclination to seek the spiritual, Prasanthi will attract him/her over and over again. For, after all, isn't the ultimate goal of a spiritual journey Prasanthi (Supreme Peace)?

That is why it is important that whenever we visit Puttaparthi, we treat it as a pilgrimage. Any pilgrimage has three stages.

Welcome to Prasanthi Nilayam... and there is Sri Sathya Sai's name greeting you even as you arrive!
The first stage is when you learn about the place, delve into its history (which is nothing short of delving into His Story) and develop reverence for it. There is faith that the journey to be undertaken is the most special one.
The second stage is the actual stay at the place with the conviction that each and every thing happening to oneself is part of a Masterplan that will help you in the spiritual journey.
The final stage is to return to one's home, carrying the place of pilgrimage in one's heart. Then, one shares about the journey to others in the spirit of selflessness. This sharing serves as the first stage for other wannabe pilgrims.

It is indeed a piece of good fortune that when it comes to Prasanthi Nilayam, we have the presiding deity speak on how one should prepare for it and benefit from it. This is a very special discourse that I located by the sheer grace of our beloved Swami. Though it was addressed to the overseas devotees, it applies to anybody coming to Prasanthi Nilayam even from within the country. Needless to say, it applies the most to people like me, who have made Prasanthi Nilayam their home. It is with great joy and love that I am sharing this discourse. It was first published in the Sathya Sai Newsletter, the 1984 Fall edition, on page 28. It is reproduced sincerely below.

Close your eyes, visualize your Swami sitting with you and speaking to you in all love. Then proceed with reading.

The unexpected call

On the evening of August 20, 1984, word was circulated within the ashram at Prasanthi Nilayam that Baba wished for all the foreigners to assemble in the mandir (temple) the next morning. So, shortly after eight on the morning of the 21st of August, virtually all of the foreigners crowded into the mandir bhajan hall. The doors and windows were ordered shut by Swami, and two translators were summoned. Mr. V K Narasimhan translated from Telugu to English, and Mr. Craxi translated from English to Italian. The transcript of that discourse follows below.


What is the use of being a human without knowing what humanness is?

Having taken this precious birth as a human being, we must realize what that humanness means. Man means the mind. Mind means desires. The result of desires may be good or bad. You experience the consequence of those good or evil things in your daily life. Therefore, the first thing you have to do is to realize that you are human. Having been born as human beings, we must make an effort to live up to our human values. In matters relating to food, sleep, and enjoyment, the behavior of man has much in common with animals. We take food. We sleep. We enjoy the pleasures of the senses. Similarly, birds, animals, and other creatures also experience this. What is the distinction between human life and the life of other animals? What is the purpose of life?

Many people do not think about this. Having been born as human beings, we must live as human beings. There are four things in which we must behave like human beings.
  1. Discipline
  2. Manners
  3. Behavior
  4. Dress
Today we are living very much the life of animals. We think that man's job is to enjoy the senses. This is not true humanness. Compassion, love, adjustment, conduct, manners, understanding —these are the qualities that human beings should develop.

On multiple spouses...

In these days man is regarding life as consisting of sensual pleasure and, therefore, is wasting his time. You must realize that this is really animal behavior. You must develop character. Nowadays, man does not devote much attention to character. Without character man is like an animal. Animals have many husbands and wives. If man also, or woman, has many husbands or many wives, he or she is worse than the animals. So, you must develop the point of view of one husband and one wife.

What is the purpose of coming to Prasanthi Nilayam?

All of you are coming here spending a lot of money. Why are you coming? Are you regarding this as a picnic, or a holiday? Or are you regarding it as a tourist attraction? No! No! You have come to broaden your hearts. You must confirm the principle of Love. It is not a love based on selfishness. This is a love which is combined with Divinity. We must make a firm resolve to pursue the spiritual path. You must journey from the starting point of "my" and "mine" to "we" and ours." You must come to understand why you have come. You come after spending a lot of money, yet you are wasting your time strolling about and engaging in unnecessary and useless talk.