Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Any desire other than God is a distraction at best - Govinda's life story with Sri Sathya Sai

Destiny is another name for God’s arrangements

Govinda had a broad smile on his face as he filled the application form to enroll into the National Defence Academy. Joining the Indian army had been his only dream during the school days and he was just a step away from achieving it. The 12th grade National Board Exams had concluded and Govinda was very confident of repeating his 10th grade Board Exam performance where he had topped his school. But there was only one problem. His father, a temple priest by profession and his mother, a simple housewife, wanted him to study more and gain degrees in accordance to the traditions of the Brahmin caste they belonged to. It was obvious that they had not understood the Bharatiya tradition of caste based on aptitude and not birth. Govinda’s aptitude had always been for physical rigour, discipline and courage. Though he was born to Brahmin parents and carried the surname, Upadhyaya, the ancient Indian tradition would have placed him in the Kshatriya caste with a different surname perhaps!

He had somehow prevailed on his parents and was hurriedly filling the forms before they could change their minds. That is when his friendly neighbour, Gupta uncle walked into the house holding some other forms.
“Govind beta, take this. You should join this college. I have all the necessary forms here.”
Govinda saw the name of the college - Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.
“Thanks uncle but no thanks! I am joining the army...”
“This is like the army and better than it also. You just apply. The entrance exams are in the first week of May in Prasanthi Nilayam.”
“Where is that?”
“Puttaparthi... Andhra Pradesh. That is Sathya Sai’s ashram.”

All these were new words for Govinda. He had not heard the term ‘Sai Baba’ in his life so far. He knew of some Babas near his hometown, Dehradun, and assumed that this Sai Baba also must be a wandering renunciate like them.
“But I have my NDA exams in the first week of May.”
“Just do as I am telling you. This will be the best decision of your life.” Gupta uncle was persistent.
“This is what you should do - study. Please do this instead of becoming a Kshatriya”, the parents pleaded.

Out of respect for the very loving Gupta uncle and to please his parents Govinda agreed to fill the forms. To his surprise, his favourite Mathematics teacher also egged him to apply in the Baba’s college in spite of having no information about him.

For the first time in his life, Govinda decided to step out of his home state of Uttar Pradesh and travel more than 2000 kilometres to the state of Andhra Pradesh. Before he left, Gupta uncle gave him a filled rucksack which contained several pairs of white dresses along with other essentials that he would need for a year! He also gave him Rs. 15,000 before bidding him all the best. His parents gave him an additional Rs. 5,000.  Thus it was that in the first week of May of the millennium-changing year 2000, Govinda found himself in Puttaparthi, to write the entrance examinations for the BSc degree.

A ‘hot’ welcome

Puttaparthi was an immediate put-off for Govinda. It was simply too hot for him in sharp contrast to the cool Dehradun climate. Added to that, it was a ghost-town (as Swami was in Brindavan, Bangalore, in the month of May 2000). He was accommodated along with three others from the states of Himachal Pradesh and Bihar. These three would always have Sai Baba’s name on their lips and would keep studying for the exams. Govinda thought they were crazy. He had decided not to study one bit so that he would flunk the exams and go back home. Little did he know the power of the destiny-strings with which the Lord beckons to a devotee!

The first time he went to the mandir for bhajans, he was disappointed. The hall was nearly empty and the bhajans were not even heard (When Swami would not be at Puttaparthi, the bhajans would be held without the microphones). The food also was not to his taste at all. Govinda called up his mother and told her that he wasn’t liking the place one bit. The mother encouraged him to stay till the entrance exam at least.

The exams were followed by interviews. A day after that, Govinda saw one of his mates crying bitterly. The results had been announced and he had not made it. He was heartbroken and Govinda did not understand why.
“He can happily go home and still the fool is crying like this”, he thought.
He then walked up to the results board and went through the list of selected candidates. And lo! It was one of the rare few occasions in his life when Govinda cried, sobbing uncontrollably in sorrow. He saw that he had been selected and he did not want to join! He wanted to join the Indian Army!

Govinda's heartfelt desire was to march in one of the largest armies of the world - the Indian Army.
He called up his mother to convey the terrible news. She told him to keep calm.
“Be there for a month or two. If you still don’t like it, you can come back anyway.” Govinda agreed to do it for his mother’s sake. The next day, he reported at the Brindavan campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning for the Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality.

The first experience and realization

Everything was new for Govinda except the discipline of the hostel. The discipline was the only thing he enjoyed and all else made him feel like a fish out of water. He longed for the life in the military instead of sitting through sessions of darshan, bhajan and talks. He almost has no recollection of the entire summer course because nothing made any meaning for him. But he vividly remembers one moment.

He was seated in the front because all the newcomers were given priority seating for the summer course. He was seeing ‘Swami’ without the least emotion. Swami asked for a song and a singer started. (It was Ravikumar and he sang the qawwali - Sai Bin Raha Na Jaaye - There is no life without Sai.) Govinda suddenly felt a powerful hit on his heart. It seemed to melt away. Why? He did not know. As the song progressed, Govinda was crying. He was unable to stop the tears. He wondered why this was happening when Swami meant nothing for him. How was he to know that the connection with God is not something restricted to one lifetime? The whole experience hit him like a truck but soon, that was put in the background and Govinda focussed on the academic year that began after the summer course.

A funny anecdote happened during the summer course. The landline telephone (cellphones were not yet common those days) in the hostel buzzed and Govinda picked up the receiver.
“Sairam”, he answered as per the custom in the hostel.
“I am Swami here”, came the reply from the other end.
Govinda couldn’t believe it.
“Swami... Swami... I am Govinda.”
“Govinda, call Sanjay Sahni. I want to speak to him...”
“Yes Swami!” Govinda said, trying to suppress the excitement in his voice, “I have joined in 1st year BSc.”
Later, he got to know that it was Dr. K.L.N.Swamy, the principal of the Whitefield campus college. The joke was revealed by the teacher during an English class and it became an incident to tease Govinda for all the classmates!

Govinda liked the sports and physical culture prevalent in the Institute. It was just days before he was crowned as the best marathoner during the health run that was specially organised for the freshers. He was carried on shoulders and hailed as a champion. He enjoyed this aspect that was similar to the army. Days turned to weeks and weeks into months. The 2-month deadline elapsed and even before he could think of calling his parents, he received a call from them. The 12th Grade Board Examination results were out and Govinda had fared miserably in them! In fact, he had got only 48 marks out of 100 in English! Govinda was too shocked for words.

Though he did not immediately understand the implications, there was no way he would have qualified for the NDA with such marks. He would have been expelled immediately after the release of results because admission there is provisional and the candidate needs a minimum of 75 in English to confirm the seat! Had he not come to the SSSIHL, Govinda would have been left high and dry. God, the best insurance policy in the universe, had ‘covered’ him so comprehensively that Govinda got a seat in the Divine College and all his necessities got arranged via Gupta uncle!

This was an episode that Govinda would remember many times later in life as he shed tears of gratitude to Swami.

Chained to the divine in a moment

It was sometime in December 2000 that Govinda had a most vivid dream.

He was standing in his house and could see Swami descend from the narrow staircase. As Swami passed him, across the threshold, He began to transform. Swami changed into Krishna and continued to walk till He reached the school grounds. There, Govinda saw many gopikas and a Krishna for each of them. Then began the Raasa leela. Govinda was witnessing it from a distance.

He woke up with his heart brimming with joy. He had not told anyone about the very special place he had in his heart for Krishna. Now, he felt, he had been given a chance to stay with the same Krishna but instead of participating in the Raasaleela, he was simply a spectator to it. He also remembered the fact that he had originally been christened as “Gopi” - the innocent devotee whose heart beats only for Krishna. It was only when he had joined school that his name had been changed to “Govinda”.The dream ensured that the seeds of devotion towards Swami got planted in his heart.

A beautiful moment shared between Govinda and his GOVINDA!
The next month, all the students from Brindavan travelled to Prasanthi Nilayam to take part in the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet. Govinda was part of “Celestial Rhythms”, an event where a group of students performed exercises on a grid suspended 60 feet in the air. On the 4th of January, 2001, when the practice session was going on, Govinda was at the top of the grid. As per the regimen, when he hung on to the grid with his feet suspending his head and hands, he saw Swami below! Swami had come for the practice session and even from that height, Govinda saw Him give the Abhayahasta (blessing by raising the palm). He was very happy - so happy that he decided to write his first letter to Swami.
The Celestial Rhythms became a popular and regular feature of the Annual Sports and Cultural Meet
after that year - 2001.
Most of the contents of the letter were about his desire to join the Indian army. A few days later, as he sat in the front lines, Swami beckoned to him, asking for his letter. Govinda ran up to Swami, knelt before Him and offered the letter. Swami opened it and began to read.
“The letter ‘n’ and ‘h’ look the same. When you write, make sure you differentiate them clearly”, Swami said.
Govinda nodded. He had not expected this sort of feedback. Swami then enquired about his parents and family. Govinda was feeling very happy and he bowed down to take padanamaskar. When he rose, Swami circled His palm and created a gold chain with a pendant housing a tiny golden Ganesha idol. He put the chain around Govinda’s head and Govinda helped Him slide it down to his neck. He then returned to his place.

That moment when Govinda says that he became a complete devotee!
That instant, Govinda felt that he became a “100% devotee” of Swami! In an instant, Swami had chained him!

The burning desire which never faltered

Swami’s grace on Govinda showered in unexpected ways. He hailed from a financially poor background and found it hard to afford even the mess charges. (Education in the SSSIHL is totally free of cost). Unknown to him, Swami paid those charges and Govinda was never sent any notice or intimation about him having to pay the mess charges or even of the waiver that he had been blessed with. He found out about it later.

That apart, Govinda was also one among the blessed dozen who were given the “security duty” at Swami’s residence in Trayee Brindavan. This meant that these students would sleep in the ground floor of the building, right below Swami’s room. By turns, they would keep awake for 1 hour every night, ‘guarding’ the building. Isn’t it laughable that the security cover of the universe was being provided security? But didn’t Lord Krishna give an opportunity to the cowherd boys to put out their sticks to hold up the Govardhana mountain which He had raised on the little finger of His left hand? It was not as if He needed their help but it was a divine opportunity bestowed on them to be part of His leela. Govinda happened to be one such ‘Gopi’ who got the opportunity to be part of Sai Krishna’s leela. For two years in a row, Govinda spent every night in the Bhoo-Vaikuntham (the abode of Vishnu on Earth).

Doing the coveted Arathi to Swami in Brindavan.
Govinda also got many other blessings - materialized Vibhuti from the divine hands, padanamaskars galore, opportunities for conversation with the Divine, chance to do Arati and so on. But all the while, his focus was only one thing - to get into the Indian army. Whatever letter he wrote, words he spoke or prayers he made were only to realize that objective. Time flew and he was into the last fortnight before he had to leave the SSSIHL. He desperately wanted to get Swami’s blessings before he left. And he did not have much time to get it because a delay would mean losing the last chance to enlist in the army.  That was when Rama Navami happened.

The 11th of April in 2003 was the festival of Rama Navami - the birthday of Lord Sri Rama. To celebrate the day and make it special for Swami, the students worked overnight and decorated the lawns around Swami’s residence, Trayee Brindavan. Govinda also sacrificed sleep to work the whole night. The next morning, Swami seemed to be pleasantly surprised by the beautiful decorations. He spent a lot of time on the lawns with the students who had worked to create the ambience. He granted photos and padanamaskar to all of them. Then, He announced an amazing bounty - all the students who worked for the decorations would have lunch with Him in Trayee Brindavan! Govinda was thrilled. Here was his opportunity to get Swami’s blessings before he left.

Swami spent almost half an hour in the Trayee gardens, appreciating all the efforts that had been put in. 
It turned out to be a memorable session as everyone expected. An hour flew by like minutes as Swami ensured that everyone was well fed and happy. Swami spoke to almost all the boys where many of them discussed their future plans. A lot of them were praying to Him for an MBA seat in the University. When it came to Govinda however, the conversation was brief.
“What are you studying?” Swami asked.
“Final year BSc Swami”, was the reply.
Swami nodded and left it at that. The session was complete and Swami began to go back. Govinda was alarmed. This was the moment and he had to grab it. He rushed to Swami and prayed,
“Swami, I want to join the army. Please bless me.”
“What will you do in the army?”
“Swami, I want to become a lieutenant...”
“What is the meaning of lieutenant?”
Govinda did not answer and sought it from Swami. Swami smiled and answered,
“Left aunt (or was it 'ant') is lieutenant...”
Then, Swami patted his cheek and sweetly pinched his nose. Giving him a mango, Swami asked him to take padanamaskar. Govinda was thrilled. He was sure that he would be in the army now.

Be careful of what you ask from God for He grants it to you! Know that any desire other than God is at best
a distraction in life. It is best to trust the Divine Wisdom - He knows what is best for each one of us.
Those were the last few days Govinda spent with Swami as a student of His college. He now prepared to write the CDS (Combined Defense Services) examinations. There were a few more heart-in-the-mouth moments for Govinda but, with Swami’s word backing him, he cleared the multiple stages and finally became a lieutenant in the Indian army.

A soldier in the military - but happiness?

Govinda grew in ranks in the army. Years later, he got married to a woman who also was serving in the army. Then came his son. Everything was as per his childhood dreams. But Govinda was not happy. There was a gnawing void within him which could not be filled by anything. In that emptiness, he found meaning and fulfillment during his annual visits to Prasanthi Nilayam. That set him thinking deeply and made him visit his past.

When he reached those three years he spent as Swami’s student, tears came rolling down his cheeks in torrents. He realized that those were the only years that seemed to have meaning and fulfillment. He also repented having wasted them by constantly thinking of joining the Indian army.
Govinda, joining the military, was like the man who went to a ‘military hotel’ (a hotel serving only carnivorous menu).

Bhagawan has narrated this many times in conversations.
A person went to a military hotel. The waiter asked him, "What shall I serve for you"?
"I want idli and sambar”, was the answer.
Then the waiter, taken by great surprise, said
"What Sir! Have you not seen the board hanging out there! This is a military (non-vegetarian) hotel! This is like expecting items like chicken and mutton in an Udipi Brahmin vegetarian hotel!”
The man was disappointed.
In the same manner there is a board attached to this world, “Anityam Asukham Lokaha (This world is temporary and full of misery)." How do you expect permanent peace and happiness in this world? Man should realise that the happiness and peace he essentially needs are not present in this mundane world.

The beautiful pendant which Swami created
for Govinda. It has a golden Ganesha encased.
Govinda says with a lot of emotion,
“It is indeed an honour to serve the country by being in the army. But there is no greater honour than being a soldier in God’s army. The army looks great from the outside. But, like every other profession, it cannot fill the void you get. It is only Swami’s army that is wholesome. My story is a funny one. When I was enlisted into Swami’s army, I pestered Him about joining the Indian Army. Now that I am in the armed forces of my country, I pine to re-enlist into His army. Thankfully, the merciful Lord gives multiple chances.”

Today, he is convinced that any desire one has is not worth cultivating and seeking unless it is a desire for God. That is because only the desire for God can fill the void that human life will ultimately bring upon everyone. All other desires are dangerous at worst and distractions at best. And so, today, Govinda strives to adhere to Swami’s words and principles with his army-like discipline.
“Swami always considered me as His boy. I never responded. I have only received and received. It is time for me to give. Today, I have only one desire - to actually become Swami’s boy.”

His emotion and enthusiasm are contagious. His tears too... As one hears him, a determination wells up in the heart,
“Swami, I want to join your army. I want to receive orders only from You and blindly follow You.”

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  1. sairam true we should be soldier in Gods army

  2. Thank You so much Brother for this Divine Benediction. Thank You so much for this wonderful and staunch message - "Any desire other than God, is at best, a distraction" and "Destiny is another name for God's arrangements". Thank You Brother for the beautiful quote with the beautiful form of the Almighty Divine Master - "Everyone will be given a change by God to go and grow closer to the Divine. That is everyone destiny. How close we actually go is in our hands. That is our effort." Brother - The ultimate words. My heartfelt gratitude for bringing this and for beating in our head very hard - "Be careful of what you ask from God for He grants it to you! Know that any desire other than God is at best". My heartfelt gratitude and with utmost humble salutations. Thank you, Devendirakumar

  3. Sairam brother.. great message... I prefer to march in white & white as Sai's soldier...

  4. Aravind Sairam, one more heart warming series of article from your pen. Eagerly waiting for next part. Best wishes and love.

  5. Govinda's passion is very understandable and Swami'sloveand compassion is beyond any of those. At this old age when a swami is physically not here I for one craved.

  6. LOvely share. Enjoyed Reading it...especially swami phone joke is super

  7. Still weeping thinking of our loving Swami's care.....what a moving story of our Lord and Govinda. Sairam.

  8. Sairam and thank you Bala. A very moving narrative and touching my heart specially as I am a retired Army Officer and I wish my journey would have been similar.
    I would love to get be in touch with Govind, with your help and his comsent.

  9. reading your words, I feel part of all of you....amongst you all...........sadhujag

  10. sairam, a very moving narrative......reading through, felt being amongst you all..........Divine being at the centre............sadhujag

  11. Thank U so much Beloved Brother for sharing this Heartmoving story. It made once more clear to me that All I want is to Serve in Sai Baba`s Army, to Love All,Serve All,Help Ever&Hurt never. I Love U. We Are ONE Humanity Living on ONE Beautifull Planet Serving ONE God, who is Infinite Love & Light in Peace of Heart & Mind.I Am.Om Sai Ram. Om Shanti. AUM

  12. Sairam,
    Desire and Destiny will go together if one has immense faith in the Supreme Power 'GOD'. Have faith in Swami's divinity and your future is safe in HIS handa guided by HIM eternally.
    Love all Sere all
    gsbm j rao

  13. Sairam balasubramanian every time when ever we are thinking about the wordly mundanes we think we are wasting our life.Let we make a pledge in our life to walk in swami's words/ways


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