Monday, 24 December 2018

The Second Coming - Jesus Christ and Sri Sathya Sai Baba

An artist's impression of the second coming of Jesus Christ
Christianity is a fascinating religion in many ways. One of the special things about Christianity is that a lot of it 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 so on. Each is the Truth in itself and we battling by quoting one against the other would be akin to blind men fighting over their respective descriptions of the elephant!

Munde Munde Matir Bhinnah”, says my Master and Lord, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. In spirit, this translates into ‘there are as many interpretations of the Truth as there are heads’ because everyone is allowed an opinion. And so, when I read through the description and interpretation of the same 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 in their own sense because, ultimately, there is only One Truth and nothing else.

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? Simple. 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 dear Swami and I know how wonderful, holy, elevating, uplifting, sanctifying and fun Divine company can be.

{By the way, my notion that the 24th April 2011 (Easter Sunday) is a day of Swami's‘departure’ was shattered through a miraculous experience that happened exactly a 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 search the term, “The Second Coming” on the internet and, in a span of seconds, you will see nearly a billion results hit your computer screen! That should suffice to say that it is an intensely debated and discussed topic. There are interpretations galore. So abundant were the interpretations offered that I decided to go to the actual Christian ‘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 “King of Kings and the Lord of Lords” was so wonderful.

And here, I shall present these as stated in the Bible along with my interpretation and understanding. (The relevant passages from the Revelations have been presented in bold.)

19:11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba as the Second Coming - an impression
of the artist
- Alexander Prowse

According to the Hindu concept of time and ages, God incarnates from age to age to establish righteousness on earth. In the present Kali age, the incarnation is that of Kalki, a Kshatriya riding a white horse. The similarity of the description struck me and I remembered that one of the photographs Swami materialized was of Himself riding a spotlessly white horse! Many artists and painters have depicted Him that way too! Also, "faithful and true" indeed seems like a translation of the word "Sathya".

Swami indeed is here, waging a war - a war like one that the world has never seen before. Just like a buffalo imagines God to be a large buffalo, we imagine war to be one with destruction and demolition. But Swami says that the weapon He has come armed with is that of Love. As He revealed during His Shivarathri 1955 discourse

In this Avatar, the wicked will not be destroyed, they will be corrected, reformed and educated and led back to the path from which they have strayed. The white ant infested tree will not be cut: it will be saved.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

What is the distance between God and devotee?

The elephant's discovery

The legend of Gajendra, the elephant king, from the 8th Skanda of the Bhagavatha Purana offers us a very interesting answer to how far God is away from us. The story goes that the bull elephant, a devotee of Lord Vishnu, once entered the waters of a cool lake on Mount Trikuta. A crocodile which lived in the same lake caught him by the leg and began to drag him into the deeper parts of the lake. Gajendra fought with all his might but a crocodile's strength in the water is ten times greater than its strength on land! As Gajendra was dragged in, he began to fight with all his might. Legend goes that the battle went on for a thousand years at the end of which, Gajendra trumpeted in pain and helplessness until he was hoarse.

Then, he remembered his Lord and called out to Maha Vishnu. Instantly, Vishnu arrived on His mount, Garuda, decapitated the crocodile with the Sudarshana Chakra (the discus) and liberated Gajendra.

The moment Gajendra called out to his Lord, Maha Vishnu was there in a trice.

As long as Gajendra fought on, Vishnu watched on, respecting the elephant-king's choice to use his own strength. But the moment he surrendered, Vishnu was there in a trice. That story teaches us that God is just as far as our call can reach! That was the discovery of a little boy too. Amey Deshpande realized that, 
no matter what, his God, his Swami is always within earshot of his cries.

Shattered pride

Amey was devoted to Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba since his birth as he was born into a family devoted to Swami. He was enrolled into the Bal Vikas classes and he became a role model for all the other children - He would sit straight for hours, chant all the shlokas and mantras, participate in bhajans and play the tabla. Such was the praise heaped on the child by the elders that he sincerely felt that he was several cuts above the rest when it came to discipline if not devotion!

In 1984, as a 5-year old, Amey came on a pilgrimage to Prasanthi Nilayam, the abode of supreme peace. Like Amey's understanding of Swami, Prasanthi too was very different back then. The schedule revolved entirely around Swami's routine. The most sought-after times were the Darshan times when Bhagawan would gently walk, nay glide through the seated devotees, ladies on one side and gents on the other. He would speak to a few, take letters from some others and call the lucky ones for an 'interview'. An 'interview' was not a Q&A session though it could be that also. It was a personal interaction between the devotee and Swami in the interview room where healing, transformation, miracles and counselling took place.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Why being spiritual requires one to be environment-friendly

Nature is divine... Our nature is divine... See the connect? (Pic of Sri Sathya Sai in the sylvan settings at Kodaikanal).
A mouse trap in the house

There is a popular story of the mouse trap in a farmhouse. A mouse saw it through the crack in its hole and got very worried. It ran all around the barn shouting,
“There is a mouse trap in the house! There is a mouse trap in the house!”
However, none of the other animals and birds cared about what appeared to be the end of the world for the mouse. The hen, pig and cow actually told the mouse not to bother them with its flimsy problems. That very night, the trap clicked shut and the farmer’s wife went to discard the dead mouse. But in the darkness, she didn’t see that it is a venomous snake that is trapped and thus got bitten! Though the farmer administered her with first aid, she came down with a high fever.
To help her recuperate, the farmer culled the hen at home and prepared chicken soup. Days passed, the lady didn’t recover and the farmer’s house was filled with kind and worried neighbours. Now, to feed them all as an expression of gratitude, the farmer butchered the pig and made stew. In spite of the doctor’s best efforts, the farmer’s wife succumbed. The cow was slaughtered for meat to feed all the guests at the funeral! The mouse survived and wondered how things would have been different had the barn cared about the mouse trap in the house.

This story made me pause and ponder about how connected the universe is. However, since it did not indicate the basis for the connect, it felt like a random story constructed to inspire a point. Therefore, I ended with the thought,
“Interesting indeed! But this is probably just a story.”

The connection became evident only when I came across the 40th Birthday discourse of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

A toe-crushing story with far-reaching implications

Here is another story now.

The little finger on the right hand got to know that the little toe on the left foot had suffered a crushing blow. It did not bother about the toe because, c’mon, why should that problem which was so far away affect the little finger?

As time passed, the neglected toe grew from bad to worse. The injury got infected and, in fact, became gangrenous. The gangrene spread from the toe to the foot to the leg. Finally, the badly infected leg affected the body itself which died. When the body died, the little finger too suddenly found itself in the throes of death. Before it knew what was happening, it too died.

That is the story of connectedness with an evident basis of connection. The story was inspired from Swami’s statement in His Birthday Message.
“When a thorn pricks your foot, you get tears in the eye, for, they are of the same body. So too, when a worm is crushed, your heart must react to its pain.”
School biology teaches us that a cell is the smallest structural and functional unit of life. Though it can function independently and has it’s own life cycle, it is always a part of a tissue. The tissue too has its unique function, purpose and existence but it always is part of an organ. Once again, the organ is an individual in every sense and yet, it is always a part of an organ system like the circulatory system, digestive system and so on. Even the systems are not completely independent because they come together harmoniously to form the organism.

Here is puzzling question. Why do we assume that the organism is a completely independent unit? Going by how it is built, is it not logical that the organism is probably the ‘cell’ of the Universe?

Swami had expounded this in a practical manner long before the actual theory was published in 1979. 
That gives us the basis of the connectedness. We are independent yet connected to each other the way cells in a body are!

The Vyashti to Parameshti journey

During His Divine Discourse on the 27th of April 1999, Swami dilated on the cosmic connection.

“Though lakhs of years have passed since the advent of man on this earth, yet he does not know his real Self even today. The entire creation has divine origin, and the Creator is God. He willed: ‘Ekoham Bahusyam’ (I am One, let Me be Many), and the creation manifested by His Will. Srishti (creation) has its origin from Parameshti (supreme power). Samashti (society) is a limb of srishti. Similarly, Vyashti (individual) is a limb of Samashti. Without Srishti, Samashti has no existence, and without Samashti, there can be no Vyashti.

Since man has limbs such as hands, feet, head, etc., which constitute his body, likewise man is a limb of society and society is a limb of creation/nature (Srishti). Man is therefore not separate from Samashti, Srishti, and Parameshti. All human beings are just the limbs of the same body of God.”

This is a recurrent theme in many of His other discourses too. Among the many other implications that the message has, one thing becomes very clear - that serving the society and the environment is an absolute necessity for one to be spiritual or devoted to God. Not serving society or ignoring the environment calling them ‘worldly’ or ‘non-spiritual’ is ignorance and foolishness. It is akin to the little finger not being concerned about the palm or hand of which it is an integral part. If the little finger seeks to serve the body, it has to love and serve the palm and hand. If the devotee seeks to love God then society and nature too have to be loved and served.

And that is why being spiritual requires us to be environment-friendly. That is why the Indian culture (and many other cultures too) worshipped nature as God. That is why it makes absolute sense for an ashram like Prasanthi Nilayam to hold an international Go-Green conference.

Let us protect and show love to Mother Earth and Father universe.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Sai Thy Kingdom Come - Thoughts on the Second Appearance of Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Can we understand His words?

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba left His physical frame on the 24th of April 2011. When that happened, there was widespread disbelief among the devotees. According to various public instances and references, Baba had said that He would be in His physical frame till 92, 94 or 96 years of age with the ‘96-years’ concept being the most popular version. How then, could He leave at 85? Thus, came the ‘theories’ of a second coming, a return to the physical of Bhagawan Baba. Then came the compilation - Sai, Thy Kingdom Come - by S.Narayan which brought together all the different things Bhagawan had said about the ‘length’ of His life. It presented evidence from the various scriptures, Nadis and the like while proposing a second coming. It also presented dreams and visions of different devotees that suggested Swami's second appearance as evidence. I must say, it felt really wonderful reading the same.

However, whenever I read, heard or came to know about different accounts regarding His second coming, a voice from within kept persistently throwing up a single statement which Bhagawan often made - a statement so poignant and profound that one could meditate for long just on it. This was the statement of Baba that my heart kept showing me,
“When you cannot understand my silence, how will you understand my words?”

The Mahasamadhi was a black swan event and it was chosen by the Avatar of the Age definitely to communicate several messages of wisdom to mankind. One of those, I firmly believe, is to prod us to start listening to and understanding His silence. Instead of doing that, if we start discussions and debates on when and how He will start 'talking' again, aren't we missing the whole point?

The Divine Word is the Veda Vakya

God’s words are always the TRUTH. In fact, a Vedic scholar was once asked,
“Swami keeps telling various things about what is in the Vedas. Are those things really present in the Vedic texts?”
The scholar, Sri Kamavadhani, replied emphatically,
“Fool, Swami’s Word itself is the Veda!”
According to him, Swami’s word defined the Vedic word and not the other way around. It was not the case of checking whether what Swami spoke was the truth or not for His speech defined the Truth.  His first name, Sathya, means Truth and the Universe realigns itself to follow His every utterance. 

So, don't get me wrong. I am not disregarding even slightly the words spoken by Swami. What I am pondering is simply about our ability to understand those words. There is the story of a sage undertaking a penance for centuries in an attempt to understand the Vedas. At the end of it, he realizes that if the Vedas were the four mountains, his understanding has been equivalent to a grain of sand! These are metaphorical stories to indicate that when it comes to divinity, the intellect and the mind are grossly inadequate in imparting an understanding. That understanding lies in the realm which is beyond the mind and the intellect. 

The debate here is not about what Bhagawan said, but of our understanding of what He said. 

Bhagawan's startling declaration in the interview room

The drama ‘Daivam Manusha Roopena’ (presented by the 11th grade students on March 29, 2007) was on the life of Shirdi Baba. When the scene of Shirdi Baba leaving the body for three days came, Swami went into the interview room. There, He made a revelation that literally left the students, Divij Desai and Harish Krishan. dumbstruck.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Handling Criticism, and Abuse - Wisdom from Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Formula while facing criticism

Everyone faces criticism. Even the Gods themselves are not spared of criticism. But then, how one faces the criticism determines what one becomes.That’s what the popular story of a donkey that fell in the well tells us. When the donkey fell in the well, it brayed out loud. To ‘bury’ the irritating sound, everyone came and threw mud into the well. The donkey however kept shrugging off the dirt from its body and did not allow itself to get buried under it. Finally, it made use of the mound of mud which had collected in the well to actually get out of the well! Criticism can be used constructively! In fact, ‘constructive criticism’ actually depends on the attitude of the one being criticised and not on the attitude of the one criticising.

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba (Swami as He is reverentially and endearingly called) says,
“Let us say somebody has criticized you. You get angry/upset. When you get angry/upset, do not react immediately. Think to yourself,
‘Do I have in me the defects that have been pointed out by them? If in case, those defects are there in me, then, is it not my mistake to get angry/upset with them? However, if the blemishes pointed out by them are not present in me, then why should I get angry/upset with them?’
If you thus give an opportunity for such an enquiry and spend time in introspection, your anger will subside.” (From public discourse on 24th May 1992)

Swami, in that same discourse, gives a personal example to make it clear.  
“When people call Me Buttatala Sai Baba (Sai Baba with a basket-like head), it may seem insulting. But, I do have a basket-like head! Therefore, I must accept this is true. But if they call Me Pattatala Sai Baba (Sai Baba with a bald head), then this is not true; so why I should I accept it? Therefore, if blemishes that are not there in me are mentioned right in front of me, even then I will not accept it. That is the right kind of determination. You must have self-confidence.”
Extrapolating the same logic, if the criticism is only partially true, one can accept (and correct if necessary) that part alone, letting go of the rest.

In a public discourse during the annual Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality held at Bangalore in 1990, Swami said,
“Saint Tukaram had good feelings and so, he gave a favourable interpretation to even the rude and negative behaviour of his wife. His senses did not stand in the way of his spiritual progress and equanimity, despite trying circumstances in his family. Likewise, Sant Kabir was always engaged in remembrance of God. So his wife’s behaviour was harmonious and conducive to his spiritual advancement, Einstein, too, had the quality of equanimity in him and was therefore not at all upset by the boisterous behaviour of his wife. From all these instances, it is evident that what you need to do is to harmonise your own thoughts and feelings through proper sadhana (spiritual discipline), rather than blame the environment or other persons for your shortcomings.”
Well, that sums it all up and highlights the truth that whether criticism is constructive or destructive depends on the attitude and sadhana of the one facing criticism.

A special case: Criticism of one’s Guru

For many Sai-devotees (and I presume it is the case for devotees/followers of other Gurus/Masters as well), there is one criticism that is hard to overcome - the criticism of one’s Master/Guru/God/Religion. I remember how my blood has boiled whenever I have read heavily concocted and hastily written articles on my Swami by half-baked journalists whose sole goal seems to be capturing eyeballs at any cost. There are also some people on the internet (I will not name them and pollute my blog or the readers’ minds) who make ad-money and build a reputation for themselves by specifically targeting Swami using hook or crook (mostly crook). They doctor images, quote media out of context and spit venom camouflaging it as scientific journalism. And I get angry and upset. I can possibly learn to stand criticism when it concerns me but when a being that I have personally experienced for two decades to be an epitome of love, sacrifice and selflessness is unfairly criticised, righteous anger wells up within. It is almost like I am unable to bear it if someone unfairly abuses my father or mother! What should I do then?

Prof. Nanjundaiah’s experience with Swami regarding this is very enlightening and liberating.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

When Sri Sathya Sai Bled to Keep His Children Safe and Happy...

He rose after the fall as though nothing had happened. It was 3 days later that the actual damage was made public.
"Jesus Christ, the saviour, bled to save mankind from its sins."
I have heard this story many times when I studied in a Christian school as a child. Though I knew the story by heart, it never touched my heart because it remained only in the realms of the head. I understood the meaning and significance of Christ bleeding for His children when I experienced the supreme love behind such an act on the 11th of January, 1999. That is a day etched in my heart coupled with mixed emotions. It is a day whose memory makes me smile and cry at the same time. It is a day when my dear Swami, my God and Master Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, bled so that one college student could be safe and all the students of the educational institutions could be happy!

The Annual Sports and Cultural Meet

I had joined as a student of the XI class in 1998 and I was very excited about participating in my first ever Sports and Cultural Meet of the Sri Sathya Sai Institutions. Each passing day, my relationship with Swami was growing in different dimensions. Ever since that first memorable experience where He accepted my love, I looked forward to each day for events to add to my experience-bank with Him. The Annual Sports and Cultural Meet is a time when the students from all the different campuses of the Institute - the Prasanthi Nilayam Campus and Puttaparthi, the Brindavan campus at Bangalore and the women’s campus at Anantapur - and the schools at Puttaparthi - Primary school and Higher secondary school - join together in a mass effort to please their dear Swami with a display of physical prowess and mental magnificence.

The significance of the timing of the Sports Meet, 11th January, is very profound. It is the time of the Uttarayana or the northward movement of the sun. This is considered as a very auspicious time for contemplating on the Lord and it is said that such contemplation leads to oneness with the Lord. In fact, the grandsire in the Mahabharatha, Bheeshma, who had a boon that he could die only when he willed, decided to do so in this period of the Uttarayana. For the students studying in Swami’s schools, thinking of the Lord becomes an automatic affair as they plan and prepare in full gusto for the Sports Meet. As Sami puts it, this is a time when the students bend the body in an attempt to mend the mind and end the senses.

Well, delving into the Sports Meet would be a matter of an entire article. It would suffice here to say this much that students do all sorts of activities - dangerous stunts, dances, drills, displays and, at times, death-defying acrobatics. And they do it with full faith in Swami. It is their way of showing how much they love Him and all that they are ready to do for Him. It is not that Swami ever asks for these expressions of their love. In fact, He is always concerned about their safety and well-being. And that is why He chose to bleed for them...

"This body has come for the sake of devotees and shall be utilised for doing anything and everything for their welfare." 
The Sports Meet of 1999

I remember that day very vividly. As soon as Swami arrived at the Sri Sathya Sai Vidyagiri stadium, a beautiful music theme filled the stadium. (This was a theme song from a famous movie that had been just released then.) I was seated near the Shanti Vedika, the stage on which Swami would ascend. When Swami’s chariot entered the ground, 150 metres away from the Shanti Vedika, I could feel the electric waves of excitement flowing through the atmosphere.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Coping with the physical absence of Sri Sathya Sai Baba - two stories and an experience

The day after which everything changed

For the followers of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the 24th of April 2011 marks the end of an era and (naturally so), the beginning of another. It is a day on which everything changed forever because the Swami that they so dearly loved discarded the lovely form that He had donned for nearly 86 years. Having painstakingly taught them for decades that He would always be in them, around them, beside them and with them, He decided that it was the time for the practical examination. 

When my mind goes back to the period after that, it just becomes numb. It is hard to remember anything 'memorable' after that 24th. Yet, His word can never fail. It is possibly with this faith or maybe hope that I stay on, doing the things that I feel will please my Swami. It is this faith (or hope) that keeps the millions of His devotees going. Lucky are those with that hope; luckier still are those with that faith. But for those like me, who have bouts of doubts and sadness at missing His lovely form, here are a couple of stories that Swami would narrate which give us a solution and thus solace. 

It was the 22nd of August, 2011 - the first Krishnashtami (birthday of Lord Krishna) that we would be celebrating at Prasanthi Nilayam in the physical absence of Swami. I suddenly felt a pinch of emptiness in my heart. My mind raced to the years before when He would feed the animals so lovingly. It especially raced to the the most memorable Krishna Janmashtami of my life when Swami showed me that though He seems to be absent, He knows everything that goes on everywhere and at every time! And soon, there were tears in my eyes. 

This is the irony of life - we laugh remembering the moments we have cried in the past and we cry remembering the moments that we have laughed and been happy in the past!

The form of God can be matched by ONLY one thing

I closed my eyes visualising that beautiful form of Swami. It was so hard to stop the tears. Possibly in a bid to bring some solace to my heart, I began chanting His name - the Sai Gayatri. The solace actually came! Why would it not? Hadn't Swami Himself promised it? Here is the story that He would often narrate to emphasize on remembrance of the Lord's name. It is popularly known as Krishna Tulabhaaram.

Monday, 14 May 2018

The Newsweek (1969) editorial article on Sri Sathya Sai Baba

The picture that accompanied the article on Sri Sathya Sai Baba in the Newsweek,
November 1969. 
Published in New York City from 1933 to 2012, the Newsweek, (according to info on Wikipedia) was a weekly magazine with the second-largest print-edition circulation, only behind the iconic TIME magazine. During its prime, it had a worldwide circulation of over 4 million and it published in Japanese, Korean, Polish, Spanish, Rioplatense Spanish, Arabic and Turkish other than English. (By the way, December 2012 was the last print-edition of the Newsweek.)

Imagine my joy when somebody forwarded by email, a scanned page of the 'religion' section of this magazine which carried a story about my dear Lord, Master, Best Friend and Guide - Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba! I searched for the soft copy of that article everywhere on the world wide web but, sadly, it wasn't there. That is why I decided that I must type out from the image and post it for all to read. The original image of the scanned page is also posted in its full resolution in the article.

The article has been presented below after its scanned image.

Sathya Sai Baba: The God Possessed
When Sathyanarayana Raju was born, his mother recalls, the family tambura twanged of its own accord and a cobra appeared mysteriously beneath his crib.As a child, he showed mystic powers and a love of sacred verse. And one day when he was 13 years old, he returned home from school and told his mother, a well-to-do matron in the village of Puttaparthi: “I am no longer your Sathya, I am Sai Baba. I do not consider myself related to you. My work is waiting. My Bhaktas(devotees) are waiting. Good-by. Worship me every Thursday.”
With that, Baba left home to begin the life of a god-possessed holy man. His mother pleaded with him to come back, but it was too late: throngs of Hindus were already crowding around the youth calling him “tiny prophet”, “mysterious prodigy” and “God on earth.”
Such events are not unusual in India, where thousands of self-proclaimed gurus and holy men roam, begging for a living and teaching their faithful. But Baba, the god-possessed is unique. He claims to be “the Lord come in human form,” a reincarnation of Krishna, one of the major Hindu gods. And thousands of devout Hindus believe that the 42-year-old, bushy-haired holy man with flashing eyes, and a voice “like the sound of a bell” can perform miracles, heal the sick and project his mind through time and space. Each November, 50000 Indians trek to Puttaparthi to celebrate his birthday. The former chief scientist in the government’s Ministry of Defence insists that Baba is “beyond the laws of physics and chemistry, a divine phenomenon, an incarnation.”
Since he began leading the life of a holy man, Baba’s miracles have become legend throughout India. A leading lawyer swears that Baba cured him of Parkinson’s disease with a wave of his hand, and Baba is said to have walked along the seashore at Cape Comorin in South India with prayer beads forming magically at his feet after each step. He reportedly produces the Bhagavad-Gita and sandalwood statuettes of Krishna from the sand by magic, and once, when traveling in a car that ran out of gas, is said to have turned a bucketful of water into gasoline. When a murderer appeared at his religious school disguised in a holy garb, the story goes, Baba detected the villain immediately and told him:“Confess your crime. There is no escape.” And Charles Penn, an American pilot insists that Baba miraculously appeared at his side during a crash landing in India.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

How God helps in our Karma - the fruits of action.

Fluctuating fortunes

It was the summer of 2002. Like some of the special summers before that, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba had decided to conduct the Summer Course in Indian Culture and Spirituality. The venue, as in most cases, was the Whitefield Ashram in Bangalore. It turned out to be a most unforgettable one for me because of an experience it gifted me. Swami used that period to teach me a powerful lesson about Karma and the way Guru/God deals with it. 

For those that are unaware of what a Summer Course with Sri Sathya Sai Baba is, here is a brief description. It had started off as a study of the Indian scriptures and value systems for a period of 15-20 days for the youth from various parts of India. Swami would take active interest in it and would address the students on a daily basis. The students were also blessed to hear talks by many scholars and erudite speakers. As years passed by, attending a Summer Course was made a special privilege of only the students studying in the various educational institutions started by Swami. The format and schedule remained the same. 

It was the 26th of May, 2002 to be precise. The Buddha Poornima celebrations overlapped with the concluding days of the Summer Course that year. The programme was by devotees from Nepal who had filled the Brindavan Ashram. I was part of the audio team that controls and takes care of the sound system during the programmes in Sai Ramesh Hall. As part of my duty, I was seated right in the front of the hall, walkie-talkie in hand, with the bhajan group. I had to give real-time updates and feedback about the microphone volumes to the team.

I also was assigned another job. This was a time when Swami had suffered a fall and had difficulty walking up the stairs. As a result, two lifts had been erected - one on the ladies’ side and one on the gents’ side - for Swami to move up and down.

Those were the days when Swami, at times, would come for Darshan in the golf-car and return by walk...Some days, He chose to walk both ways...
I was told that if Swami used the lift on the gents’ side of the hall to go up the stage, I should send the ladies’ side lift also up, so that both lifts are available for Swami in case He wishes to descend. It had to be done manually as this synchronicity of the lifts had not yet been automated. Swami, on that day, completed His darshan rounds and moved up the lift from the ladies’ side. The lift on the gents’ side stayed down. Over the walkie-talkie I got an instruction,
“Move to the gents’ side and raise the lift up.” 

I was in a dilemma because, as Swami sat on the dais, I was right in front of Him. I also had my Nikon SLR camera in hand. Would it not be conspicuous if I got up and went over to the lift? Would not Swami get upset at my ‘indiscipline’ of moving about during a programme?

Even as I was lost in thoughts, I got another message,
“The warden is here. He says that you better go and raise the lift up. Otherwise, in case Swami wants to go down the gents’ side, He will be made to wait.” Now, the warden of our hostel in Brindavan also happened to be sort of an administrative head of the Brindavan Ashram. He was considered as Swami’s ‘right hand’ to execute various activities. If he was saying, I better do it, I thought. (That is a fatal mistake. To allow anyone, however high or powerful he might be, to come between you and your Guru/God). So, I just got up and walked to the lift. I pressed the green button that took the lift up.

Immediately, I felt a hand pull me down. It was a teacher and he seemed upset. He said, “You fool! Why did you get up and move? Swami was going on seeing you. He does not like such indiscipline. Now, just sit here and don’t do anything foolish.” I sat down at the lift, a little scared about facing Swami’s ‘irritation’. But my attention was on my Nikon 801s camera that was on the floor, right in front of Swami. The bhajans were on and everyone were singing out loud. The Buddhist devotees sitting there were lost in the ecstasy of devotion and I was worried. One swipe of an excited limb and my camera would be history! I sat with bated breath, waiting for the programme to conclude.

One of the few pictures I took before I went over to the lift on the gents' side of Sai Ramesh Hall. 
About half an hour later, Swami gently rose and received Aarthi. Then, He again moved towards the lift on the ladies’ side. As He moved down, in accordance to the policy, I lowered the lift on the gents’ side also. Swami began to walk in the opposite direction towards the ladies’ side exit of the hall. At this time, I got up and rushed back to my placein order to safeguard the camera. 

And then, it happened...

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Lucid dreaming about Sathya Sai Baba? What does it mean?

Lucid Dreams

I met a person in Singapore (let us call her Lakshmi because she doesn’t want her identity revealed) who had a very interesting experience with lucid dreaming. For those that are wondering, in a lucid dream, the dreamer is aware that he/she is dreaming! In many cases, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment. Thus, the dreamer is not just a participant of the dream but also, to an extent,  the controller and decider of the destinies of everyone and everything in the dream. In short, the dreamer is almost the God of the dream!

A lucid dream can allow you to control and also shape your dreams because you 'know' that
you are sleeping!
(Artwork by Johnson Tsang)
I was very keen to know more about her experiences because I felt that lucid dreaming is such a spiritual phenomenon. Vedanta says that life itself is a dream - just that one isn’t aware of it. “What better analogy to find in ‘real life’ about awakening and awareness than lucid dreaming?” I thought.
There were many interesting insights that I got from her but the most striking one was about visiting Prasanthi Nilayam and seeing Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who we lovingly call Swami.

Dream or a nightmare?

Lucid dreaming is something that one can train oneself to do and there are lots of resources on the internet on how to become a lucid dreamer. Lakshmi however, discovered that she had a natural ability to lucid-dream. (Statistics show that about 10-12% of the population has this ability naturally.) The discovery came late in life in an interesting manner.

Lakshmi would dream that she was lying on her bed with her head in the opposite direction of which she had actually slept. She would be paralyzed and stuck. And she would know that it was a dream!
“All that I have to do”, she would tell herself in her dream, “is wake up. Then this paralysis will be gone.”
A normal dreamer can only wonder at how such an experience feels. But for Lakshmi, it was very frustrating. Though she knew that the solution to her paralysis was waking up, she did not know how to wake up!

She discussed her strange plight with her family and close friends. She also received a very interesting solution.
“Lakshmi, you are getting frustrated because you don’t know how to ‘wake up’ though you are aware that you are in a dream. Don’t try to wake up. Just exploit your awareness...”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Lakshmi, a bit confused.
“Well, you know that it is a dream. Thus, you can easily convince yourself that you can walk in it. Spend time walking till you are able to wake up!”

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam - Importance and Significance

A day of celebration or mourning?

The 24th of April every year is significant for those who love or revere Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It is on this day in 2011 that He 'died'. The quotes for that word are because someone who embodied eternal values of Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Love and Non Violence can never 'die'. He continues to live on in the hearts of people who hold Him dear. However, the Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam, as the day is called, often brings pangs of pain and tears of lamentation for many because they miss their Swami in their midst.
Strangely, this anniversary of His ‘passing’ has been termed a 'Mahotsavam' which translates into 'great festival'. Why this irony? Isn't it sprinkling salt on a wound by terming a day of mourning as a day of celebration? What is one expected to do on such a day and how should one celebrate it?
In 2012, exactly one year after that earth-shattering day, I got ready and prepared myself for the solemn ceremony at Prasanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi.

Sri Sathya Sai Aradhana Mahotsavam experience of 2012

Waking up early in the morning, I got dressed in the traditional white shirt and white trousers after a bath. It was already 7:00 am and I had to hurry to mandir. As I served some Semiya (Indian vermicelli) for myself, my mother called out,
“Have you kept breakfast for Swami?”
It had become a practice at home to offer food and water to Swami's photograph in the altar in an attempt to feel His presence at home. So, I took the special silver plate and served vermicelli on to it. As I placed it at the altar, I noticed the silver tumbler there had water from the previous day. I took the consecrated water, poured it into my glass and filled the tumbler with fresh water for Swami. That was when a thought crossed my mind.
When people invited Swami to visit their homes, Swami would often say,
“You want me to be at your home but you do not give me food and water!"
That was His way of reminding people that His was a constant and unseen presence in every home. Desperately hoping to feel that in my home, I told Him in my head,
“Swami, keeping food and water for you is a maintenance job. It is noticed only when it is not done! There is no appreciation if food is kept daily, but if it is missed, You complain!”
I smiled to myself as I said this. Since Puttaparthi summer temperatures get searing, I added half a glass of chilled water, placed the silver tumbler at the altar and said,
“There, cool water for a hot day.”
I then gobbled breakfast and soon, the four of us, my mother, my father, Pooja and I, left for the mandir. The other three planned to have breakfast after the morning programme in the mandir.

Being part of the Radiosai team, the official media coverage unit for the mandir in the Ashram, it was also my professional duty to cover the day’s proceedings. The governor of Andhra Pradesh, Sri E.S.L.Narsimhan was the chief guest for the day which had a ‘Guru Vandana’ music programme by the students and the release of a book titled ‘The Miracle of Pure Love’ authored by Prof.G.Venkatraman scheduled.

The students’ music programme brought copious tears in my eyes. They were singing all of Swami’s favorite songs and there were beautiful visuals of Him on the TVs and giant screens. Seeing it was such nostalgia that one wished to keep one’s eyes fixed only on the screen and forget everything else. But sadly, I could not do that for I was manning a camera! Those beautiful 30 minutes were followed by the book release and then the governor’s speech. His speech took everyone by a storm almost.
He simply discarded the speech paper which had been prepared and spoke straight from the heart. He made it clear that he had not come as the governor but as ‘an admirer of Swami’. He said, “I am ashamed that whole governments are not able to do for the people what a single individual did. Swami is such a positive force that He gave a fantastic meaning even for vices. He said that one must have Kama (desire) for service, Krodha (anger) if one is not able to serve and Lobha (greed) to serve more and Matsarya (jealousy) towards those who are able to serve more!
Shedding tears he recalled how Swami cured someone very dear to him with just one statement, “Don’t worry! Nothing will happen.” And as the governor choked, the ruthless press photographers clicked away, firing flashes into him.
“I am sorry I am getting emotional” the man apologised, “I simply cannot help it.”
I was in tears. I was thinking that Swami is a real silent worker. Without the slightest announcement or advertisement He was transforming and changing lives everywhere. And I missed Him!

I missed Him with all my being. My heart pined and ached for Him. Ah Swami! How much I desire to see you...
And then, the governor said, “Swami should not be seen! He should be experienced!”