Sunday, 9 November 2014

FAITH and CONFIDENCE : Definition and Difference

Sometime back, I wondered aloud to some friends on the difference between Faith in God and Confidence in God. Are they the same, and if not, what is the difference? The quote below started this train of thought in my mind.
Where there is FAITH, there is love;
Where there is love, there is truth;
Where there is truth, there is peace;
Where there is peace, there is bliss;
Where there is bliss, there is GOD.
Many of us would recall Bhagawan quoting the above words during a Divine Discourse or during a personal interaction in the interview room, or during those unforgettable Trayee sessions in His residence at Brindavan (Whitefield). And perchance if we missed hearing Him here then technology ensures that we can still listen to Him through audio or video recordings preserved for posterity. 
'Trayee Brindavan,' Whitefield ashram
Swami had a way with words ! Profound spiritual truths from the Vedas or the Upanishads and from world religions flowed from Him seamlessly, in simple words tailored to suit the modern sensibility that otherwise has no time for philosophy couched in abstruse language. But Bhagawan could hold your attention and force you to think through His pithy aphorisms that had layers and depths of meaning and might take a lifetime or two to internalise.


As a student in the 80-90s period in Swami's University, when I listened to the above quote, I would feel happy for of course I had faith in God and in this Divine manifestation in front of me. I loved Him, I followed Him and had great regard for Truth. Hence, why worry, my life would be awesome, henceforth ! Life did take an awesome turn -- I spent nearly two decades in His physical proximity and I had my fill of Divine Bliss in many ways. I witnessed many marvellous, unbelievable things happening in front of my eyes. But there was one thing that still eluded me and this was PEACE. I was happy and inspired but not peaceful and this bothered me a lot. In fact, lack of peace sometimes dented away my happiness and I came into a dark place where I wondered how if I could not find PEACE in the 'ABODE of Peace' (Prasanthi Nilayam), near the Avatar of LOVE, then nowhere in the world would I find it. The ups and downs of life teach us many lessons; I had the added advantage of living near the 'greatest Teacher on Earth' and I learnt many lessons about life, but peace eluded me still. This 'peaceless-ness' was accentuated especially when things did not go the way I thought they should, apart from the daily, everyday irritants. At every turn the unexpected awaited me and I had to change my road-map many times. (Now I don't have a road-map -- I tore the last one and did not replace it !). Living near Divinity I discovered first-hand that 'CHANGE is the only constant in life' and Bhagawan's favourite message was: "LOVE MY UNCERTAINTY, for it is not a mistake". (Why didn't somebody warn me about this, that spirituality was no guarantee against uncertainty/chaos?!)

And here I remained for a while, till something subtly shifted in me. Some time in the 2000s, I noticed something Bhagawan had begun to emphasize in His discourses and through other more dramatic ways. One concrete example is how He started presenting the quote on FAITH (quoted on top) as below:
 "Where there is CONFIDENCE, there is love;
  Where there is love, there is truth;
  Where there is truth, there is peace;
  Where there is peace, there is bliss;
  Where there is bliss, there is GOD."
   (ref. Sanathana Sarathi. June 2003. P. 171)   

Friday, 7 November 2014

HOME is where the HEART is !

What does the word 'HOME' evoke in you ? To me HOME is:


That place where you are ACCEPTED
Flaws, warts and all
That place, when you might fumble or fall
Help is always at hand, to help you move on.


Where when you succeed, at things big or small,
You are greeted with pride and toasted with awe!


Where when at the end of a long, hard day,
There's someone waiting at the door-step
With a love-filled demeanour !



Where when you return, worn-out, battle-scarred,
Bruised, hurt, misunderstood, stripped of your all
Your mind numbed, your heart stunned
By a cruel world's strange paradox
(no matter what your age or caste, creed, sex, sect no bar)
Anxious loving arms and warm loving eyes
Encircle you, in their PROTECTIVE embrace
and you realise, 
LOVE's WATCHFULNESS across time and space PERVADES

Sometimes you might even run away,
Seeking adventure, change or prize
But soon you hasten back
To LOVE's silent summons and
silent admonishment at going 'nearly astray'!

When reprimands delivered
For actions ignorant
Underlie the intense concern
Of a Father's tough love

And then seeing the tears that invariably flow,
The Mother hastens forth
(With a twinkle in Her eye!)
To comfort and console.


"Home is where the HEART is", read a poster long ago;
Houses are built of bricks, homes are built of HEARTS", another said so
LOVE that soothes and gives without an 'agenda'
 LOVE that heals and comforts in an incessant flow
Love that encompasses ALL
Regardless of regard or 'dividend'


  
Such is the love of this Master we adore!
I am grateful, O Lord - the Dweller of my heart
To have savoured this love, so unique and apart!
That Thy Grace bestowed, oblivious to deservance
That flows in myriad ways, till date, always

And that has made my HEART, the HOME I'm seeking for!

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

7. A DECEMBER incident: the MYSTERY of the ' PARROT'-MAN' !

Devotees of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba have often received His blessings through His previous incarnation as the Sai Baba of Shirdi, in dreams or strange encounters! Many others have been led to the Parthi form from the Shirdi one. It has been the experience of devotees who have never heard of Sri Sathya Sai or felt drawn to Him, to read the Shirdi Sai SATCHARITRA and get blessings or answers to dilemnas through the Sathya Sai form. Someone I know who was never interested in Sathya SAI, read this holy book as a 'parayan' (seven-day-reading of a holy book) in the UAE and subsequently dreamt of the Sathya Sai form who then coaxed her to come and visit Him in Puttaparthi in 2010.

The 'NAWAB' of PARTHI

There is a very deep and subtle link between these two (and other) forms of Divinity though they seem so different and devotees have experienced this connection in many ways.  
Once someone had the temerity to ask Bhagawan why did He and Shirdi Baba have so little in common, in the way they APPEARED -- dress, mode of travel, place of residence and other such facts. Bhagawan's revealing reply went like this (in HINDI): 
"Tab Mein FAKIR banke aaya tha; ab Mein NAWAB banke aaya hoon" !!
"Then I had come as a FAKIR (mendicant); now I have come as a NAWAB (an Emperor)" !!
 

 Appearances do not matter when the ESSENCE of LOVE and COMPASSION are the same. Lord Krishna was born among humble cowherds, but Lord Rama was a Prince. Yet they are equally loved and venerated by the devotees. For the Divine, the body is just an instrument suiting the purpose of that particular Avataarhood; doubts arise in those who cannot go behind appearances.


The 'FAKIR' of SHIRDI
This lesson was brought home to me in a most mysterious manner in the December of 1993, at my home at Kerala. Passage of time, I discover, does not dull the vividness of encounters with Divinity. 
It was a Thursday morning and a friend, erstwhile college-mate from Anantapur had come early on to take part in a 'Satsangh'. There was a person who was coming to our home; he was writing a book about Sai devotees' experiences in and around the city of Trivandrum (Thiruvananthapuram -- the holy city of Lord Anantha Padmanabha/Mahavishnu reclining on the serpent Anantha). He had visited us the previous day and had narrated some incidents of Bhagawan's Omnipresence and how he was being guided to devotees' homes for writing his book. He was to come again that day and I had called my friend to contribute her bit too. We had experienced Swami's Grace the previous summer in a striking manner and I wanted to narrate this experience to him in my friend's presence with some other such incidents. 
A representation of the idol at the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum. 
As we chatted, my friend narrated an incident that involved a family whose daughter was an ardent devotee of Bhagawan and had persuaded her family to put photos of both Sathya Sai Baba and Shirdi Sai Baba in their puja-room. One day, an old holy man in tattered clothes visited their house and they received him respectfully. (In India, in a slowly dying out tradition, holy men and women are accorded respect and offered food, etc.) He sat in their living room and made some prophetic assertions and surprising statements about their personal lives. Then remarking, "It's all the leela of Baba," with typical hand-waving gestures, he took out 'vibhuti' from an old bag slung on his shoulders and gave it to all the people in the house. He specifically asked for the daughter of the house and blessed her too. He then insisted on visiting their puja-room. There when he saw the photograph of Shirdi Sai, he smiled to himself and said, "Oh, the OLD MAN is here as well" !  After a day or two, the daughter, (the original Sai devotee in the house) had a dream, wherein Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba appeared and told her, "It was I who had come to bless you; but Maya (the deluding power of the Divine) prevented you from recognizing Me" !! And so we were chatting, little knowing that Swami however wanted to spice things up further, as we later discovered. 
As I was getting ready, the door-bell rang and my mother told me that there was an old man at the door with a parrot in tow, who would read all our fortunes. I was dismissive of this because as a rule we never consulted astrologers and the like, since the Maker of Destinies was anyway taking care of us. But my mother was in great anxiety regarding her sister and went ahead with this. My friend and me decided to go and watch the fun. 
The DESTINY-Writer
We found a tall old man, dressed in a tattered black shirt and loose pants. He had a small parrot in a cage and and a deck of cards illustrated with different pictures mostly  those of many Indian deities. The procedure was to mention the name and birth-star ('janma-nakshatra' in Vedic astrology) of the subject and then leave it to the parrot to pick a card that would indicate one's fortune. As we watched, my mother mentioned her sister's name and star, and the parrot picked out a card. I still vividly remember how the card depicted the image of Goddess Lakshmi (the Deity of wealth) sitting on a lotus, in a water-body. "Ah!" the old man said and then in a semi-musical monotone, proceeded to reveal the fortunes of my aunt. He said she was in financial trouble, but like water that does not stick to the lotus leaf, with God's Grace, her troubles wouldn't stick to her but would be overcome. (True enough, I thought, but most people do have some kind of money problems and the old guy could have been guessing! ) Then unexpectedly, he added, that six months ago, she had just crossed a life-threatening situation but now she was safe. This was interesting, because, just a half-year ago she had actually undergone a tricky surgery and come out safely through it. After a few more such correct facts and some predictions which all eventually came true, he then spoke about my brother. Here too, the facts and predictions (as we found later on ) were correct. Then it was my friend's turn. As this was going on, I began to wonder as to who this person could be. It was a slow feeling, a growing suspicion that there was more to the eye here. As I scrutinised him, he deliberately avoided me and went on to speak to my mother. Here he read her palm and again mentioned some accurate facts. (He was turning out to be a real 'all-rounder' in the fortune-telling field, I thought wryly). I then decided to change from observer to participant and have my fortune told too !!

The Parrot and her cards !

Unfortunately, the cards the parrot picked out for me showed all creepy-crawly insects and animals much to my dismay! No benevolent deities smiled at me! The old man looked kindly at my crestfallen face and said, "Oh! this is all an effect of sarpa-dosha (curse of the serpent)", but not to worry, he had the remedy for it. He instructed my mother on some ritual with camphor and fire for five days and that  would remove the bad period. He accurately described my loss of appetite, insomnia, etc. and then as though to cheer me up, he read my palm. Here, he looked very pleased and confidently asserted that within fifteen days, my greatest wish would come true!
I was racking my brains to decipher what on earth was my 'greatest wish' exactly! The one consolation I had was that I was shortly travelling to Puttaparthi and so on that fifteenth day, I would be in Swami's Presence, whatever might happen! Two birds with one stone: The authenticity of this 'parrot-man' and a discovery of my 'greatest wish' ! That this PREDICTION was spot-on, I got to know 15 days later much to my joy and amazement ! Subject of the next post !
Bhagawan near the slope of the mandir-verandah at Prasanthi Nilayam: Oct.1999
As I was lost in thought, the OLD MAN, asked me to pick out another card and this time, it was one of Lord Ayyappa. He said to my mother, (again studiously avoiding me) that this was a good omen; I would be benefited greatly with a gift in my career. Meanwhile, now that good things were beginning to be said, I wanted more! Also, my feeling that this person might just be a certain SOMEONE kept growing in my mind. So I asked him point-blank, "Have you heard of Sai Baba?" He angrily denied this (pray, why the anger ?) and mumbled something about not wasting his time. So I asked whether another card could be picked out for me. He nodded and said, I was to think of my favourite deity from the pantheon of Gods and Goddesses (33 crore in the Indian system !) and pray. If the One I thought of was picked by the parrot, then my good fortune was guaranteed!
I mentally consulted Swami; He was truly my only Deity! But I didn't want to be yelled at by the commanding OLD MAN again. So I hesitantly said, "SHIVA is my Deity" Again the OLD MAN was displeased with me.He asked, " Which SHIVA? He has so many forms; Saamba Shiva, Sada Shiva, . . . . . PARAMA SHIVA." So I hurriedly said, " Hmm, PARAMA Shiva." As the parrot was shuffling the cards with its beak, I inwardly was telling Bhagawan, "Though I said 'SHIVA', for me You are the personification of the Trinity. You are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva , all rolled into ONE !" The parrot, the silent player in this drama made her pick; she pulled out the card and the fierce OLD MAN held it up for me to see. I gasped: the card displayed the Form of DATTATREYA (an Avatar of the Trinity in Puranic times) and on the top were the faces of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. My very thought MANIFESTED in front of me ! It was a demonstration to me, of Bhagawan's true Form, as He had revealed to a group of devotees many years ago
Lord DATTATREYA as He is popularly depicted
While I was digesting this, the OLD MAN looked benevolently at me and said that this was a good sign. I had my chosen Deity's Grace. He then turned his attention to my friend. Feeling slightly more emboldened, I decided to tackle the question of his 'identity' once again, in a different manner. I asked him casually where was he from ? He promptly replied, "CHIDAMBARAM". Chidambaram is a temple town in Tamil Nadu with a famous Shiva temple and is also a seat for Nadi-astrology (astrology through ancient palm-leaf manuscripts). But this wasn't the answer I hoped to hear. I couldn't give up so easily either; so I persisted, and asked him a question, which in retrospect sounds strange,"HERE, where do you come from, HEREABOUTS ?" His answer stunned and silenced me. He casually said,  "Nedumangad". Why the astonishment, one might ask ? Well, this was the same place the 'Old Man' in my friend's story said he was from. In the previous incident mentioned above, when the family asked him where he was from in the course of conversation, that "Old Man' had casually said, "Oh, I stay at Nedumangad (a suburb of Trivandrum city)." Later after the daughter's revealing dream, when they made enquiries, the amazed family discovered that in Nedumangad, on the outskirts of the city, there was a small ashram of SHIRDI SAI devotees! Twenty years back, Shirdi was not as well known in the South of India, as it is today. Shirdi Baba was relatively unknown except in some pockets of the city. So a Shirdi Sai Ashram in this deep South of India was unusual.
I was stumped. I went absolutely quiet as I tried to digest this bit of information, while the old man began winding up his parrot-apparatus and demanded money for his reading. I watched him and my mother quibbling over payment and was again reminded of Shirdi Sai always 'demanding' DAKSHINA from His devotees. I told mother to pay 'HIM' twenty-one rupees and let 'HIM' go. We watched 'HIM' go down the steps, towards the garden gate. On an impulse, I followed a few moments later and looked both sides of our small lane. There was NO ONE in sight. He had simply vanished with His parrot paraphernalia !

EPILOGUE: That January 1994, I happened to stay outside the Ashram in Prasanthi Nilayam for the first time. One afternoon, I was woken up from a nap, by a commotion in the street. I looked out to see a "Parrot-Astrologer" on his rounds, calling out his deal ! Coincidence? I prefer to call it SAI-INCIDENCE !!
Also, as soon as the incident had occurred, and the 'OLD MAN' had vanished from view, I consulted my SAI-book of quotes, (actually, any spiritual book lying in the vicinity, ask your question with full focus of mind and open a page at random -- ACCEPT the answer and act accordingly ! Works for me every time.) The message was :
" . . . So, the Avathar has to come as Man among men, and move as friend, well-wisher, kinsmen, guide, teacher, healer and participant among men. He has come to restore Dharma, and when man follows Dharma, He is pleased and content."   p. K 71, Thought for the Day: 1008 Gems from the Sri SAI Manasarovar.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

'Okka Chinna Katha' 1 : 'One small story' from the Divine lips about PERSEVERANCE on the spiritual path

The month was DECEMBER, the year 1995. The celebrations of Bhagawan's 70th birthday had concluded, with the announcement of a multi-crore Water-Project for the State of Andhra Pradesh, (the first of many) bringing safe drinking water to 1.2 million people in 750 villages in the drought-prone district of Anantapur. The colleges closed for a break after the Birthday and Bhagawan suddenly called us for an Interview (private audience in the Interview room next to the mandir bhajan hall).
After we were all seated in the small room, (that seemed to expand and contract with the numbers He would call inside !) Swami talked about the recently concluded grand 70th Birthday celebrations. Someone asked Him why He wore a simple white robe on His Birthday:
SWAMI: (in sweet innocence) They said that in a red or orange robe, I would blend with the background, hence a white one
Devotee: Bhagawan, you should have worn a golden robe for this grand birthday.
SWAMI: (in a rare moment of revelation, setting aside the usual Maya that He always assumed, said emphatically in Telugu)  NENE . . . . GOLD (I AM GOLD!!!) I do not care for all this -- pomp and show, functions, etc. I do it for the sake of My devotees, that's all.
A STUNNED SILENCE ensued, as everyone pondered on this statement. Being deluded by an Avatar's humanness, while in His physical proximity, we often forget the Divine Essence within the human form, till He reminds us in different ways. We forget that all these appearances and paraphernalia are merely on the surface; beneath all this is the MISSION of the Avatar to awaken us spiritually)

Bhagawan then went on to speak on some fascinating topics, but before I retell the pertinent story, let me digress a bit here. 
Sometimes while visiting a holy spot or a spiritual place, one encounters people or situations not quite holy or spiritual. And then you begin to wonder why exactly spend so much time, money and resources to come here in search of peace and go back disillusioned ! Better to have stayed at home and link with the Omnipresent Lord there itself! This has happened to not just visitors to Prasanthi Nilayam, but to those who live here as well. No one is immune from this predicament !!!

A bird's eye view of Prasanthi Nilayam

The Omniscient One being aware of this, sometimes parted the veil a little and revealed why this happens. This conversation between Bhagawan and a student from the University, who had gone home for the holidays, some years back illustrates this. When he returned, Swami asked him casually:
SWAMI: So, how was your vacation ?
Student: It was good, Swami
SWAMI: Did you visit any place?
Student: (nervous, but truthful)  Swami, I visited . . . . .  Ashram
SWAMI: Oh, I see. And did you like it there ?
Student: (with enthusiasm) Yes Bhagawan, very much.
SWAMI: Did you like it better than Prashanthi Nilayam?
Student: (back to nervous, but still truthful) Bhagawan, I found it very peaceful, the people were all rather calm and friendly, (and he added hesitantly) unlike here.
SWAMI: Hmmmm. Do you know why this is so? Student: No Swami                                              SWAMI: There, (the place the boy had visited) they all meditate most of the the time. Hence, many things are suppressed within. HERE, I BRING EVERYTHING OUT.

Nothing escapes this Master !


However, in His compassion Bhagawan knows that sometimes one explanation is not enough to assuage a wounded heart or dissipate a devotee's doubt. Then, He brings forth more messages for us to comprehend a little more of the truth.
When I was studying at the college at Anantapur we had heard a remark of Bhagawan where He emphasised that no-one can enter the holy precincts of Prasanthi Nilayam without His Will. In fact He said: "Even an ant cannot come here without My Will This is true of any hoary spiritual place; without the 'Call', no-one can come, no matter how great the effort. As Bhagawan confirmed to a Western devotee,
“As I told you , no one can come to Puttaparthi, however accidental it might seem, without My calling him. I bring only those people who are ready to see Me, and nobody else, nobody, can find their way here. When I say ‘ready’ there are different levels of readiness, you understand.”
However, the matter does not end here. What happens 'after' we come here is equally and perhaps more important. The chinna katha, in fact emphasised this to us.
Bhagawan said that day, as a prelude to the story:
One has to try very hard on the spiritual path. Pleasure comes out of pain. It is a step-by-step process, like climbing a mountain. You have to cross many stones and thorns on the path and learn how to avoid/overcome them. There is no fruit without striving; hence to attain God too, you have to strive. This striving is for your own good.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

6. When 'death' came knocking and GOD took the CALL !

Around two decades ago, my aunt was suddenly struck by an emergency illness and all of us feared for her life. At that time I had a wonderful book with me called, 'Facets of the Divine Diamond', (out of print now) full of pithy quotations from Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, arranged alphabetically. As is my habit, I prayed for a message during that anxious period, and received through that book a powerful quote that said:
"Do not contemplate on 'death', it is merely an incident of life;
 contemplate on GOD who is the MASTER of all LIFE" .  

We literally did that and needless to say, my aunt came out safely through that medical emergency of a burst appendix (story some other time) and till date remains hale and hearty.
I was reminded of this quote a couple of months ago when apparent 'calamity' struck us in the form of ill-health of an elderly member of my family, who I will call BSM. The events that followed during the ensuing three weeks constitute a 'miracle', a Divine leela (play) -- seemingly simple occurrences, a string of coincidences, some inputs from other dimensions (!!) and finally the surprising climax. 
It also set me thinking about the role of human effort, Divine GRACE and surrender, in spiritual life. With each step on this journey, we grow and move closer to the goal of Oneness with the Source. In the confounding events of life, we start with human effort (mental and physical) -- physical action and  prayer including affirmations, rituals, mantras, bhajans, meditation and many other such mechanisms to connect with God and seek His help in the issues of life. Slowly the realisation dawns that human effort is a miniscule part of this journey; that for a devotee, it is the GRACE of God that envelopes life and all that we are. We are like the little fish who live in the ocean and one day, set out to find this great Being called the OCEAN that features in 'fish epics' and 'fish mythology', little knowing that they live in and are sustained by this very 'OCEAN'!!

Since effort is so tiny when compared to the power of Divine Grace, must we then stop praying or making various efforts? Since everything is God's Will and 'what happens will anyway happen' should we 'sit back and relax', 'stop work and enjoy the show' and go by other such platitudes of  fatalistic philosophy? No, we continue with the same -- we work, we pray, we stumble, we agonize at delays, we wait for deliverance, but our intuitive awareness grows and our understanding of God deepens and so too our relationship with the Divine. We also learn to slowly detach from the outcome of effort; moving towards 'disinterested (unselfish as opposed to obsession with results) action' or 'Nishkama Karma' as espoused in the Bhagavad Gita.
Human effort, by itself cannot achieve anything ! Explosive statement in today's world. But here's the corollary: human aspiration and inspired effort set into motion 'spiritual forces of the Universe', (read GOD), which then bring about necessary outcomes. Like the positive and negative poles required to generate electricity, so too effort and Grace coalesce to bring about change, the ratio being unequal though.Whether you believe in God or not, Grace operates in life. For electric current to be generated in your home, you do not need to understand the intricacies of physics, there just needs to be the right conditions. Effort is like the switch you press. Even when people believed the earth to be 'flat', no-one fell off the Earth's surface, because the earth is in fact spherical, a fact like Grace.

Can mere  'human effort'

 move this rock of life's circumstances ?

When God decides to enfold you in His embrace, that is, when He decides to assume total, direct responsibility for everything in your life, it could seem like a loss of 'personal freedom'. Even in small, everyday matters, you can see His Hand and while you can wonder and debate about 'free will and destiny', you are inescapably aware of this OMNIPOTENT Love, that can lightly brush away karma with a wave and a smile! It reminds me of a poem we studied at college, titled, The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson, where he talks of the Divine relentlessly pursuing the soul, enmeshed in the world to bring it back to the Source!  For sometime after that we used to refer to Swami as H.H.  :))
Link here for poem: 


It was summer in 2013. I was in an extremely restless frame of mind, dealing with various issues at once, mentally and physically drained out. So when a friend invited me to visit her abroad, I was very enthused and later was happy when Bhagawan said in a dream, "Go and come", (though He did not look at me while saying this and sounded  non-commital). I felt intuitively that this trip would change the direction of my life in some major way; so I looked forward to it, albeit cautiously. Anyhow, I wanted a 'break'; I 'needed and deserved' it! Meanwhile a neighbour's daughter arrived for an unexpected holiday from the very country I was planning to visit, so it seemed as though everything was in order. The Universe was confirming my plans . . . .
I was busy with procuring a visa etc. and I was praying (pestering, rather) to Bhagawan to give a more concrete permission and advice, something more involved from His side, that is. Well 'man proposes and God disposes'; this is a well-known saying, familiar to all. But I also experienced first-hand, though not for the first time, that God's disposition is ALWAYS for the best (though we may not admit it always!) 

I was supposed to embark on my 'trip' towards the end of June. Meanwhile, BSM, who is the protagonist of this story was gearing up for his quarterly medical check-up at the Super-Specialty Hospital in Puttaparthi, He has a severe heart-valve dysfunction and is on 'medical-management' (since Bhagawan hadn't given permission for surgery in early 2011), unable to handle physical strain, including walking for long, climbing stairs, etc. However his trip to the 'Super' (as we often refer to the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences http://psg.sssihms.org.in/ ) this time around was for a routine Urology check-up, as is normal for people in their late seventies. 

BSM with Swami during a Seva-Dal padanamaskar session: January 1993

Just days before the hospital visit, I had an early morning dream of Bhagawan, on June 5th, 2013. (For me, clear, vivid dreams where Bhagawan features are as real and concrete as encounters with Swami in the physical realm, more so, since the mind cannot obfuscate the experience, by interfering with doubts. Most of these visitations are corroborated by external events in my waking life. Often they are prophetic, announcing events that come true sometimes after some years, when I have all but forgotten Swami's message! As Baba Himself has said, : "Dreams relating to Guru and God are realPlease see this link for what Baba has clarified further regarding such dreams:
 http://www.saibaba.ws/articles1/dreams.htm  ).
My dream that morning was as follows:
I was standing somewhere in front of the mandir verandah and Bhagawan was there too, busy talking to people, collecting letters; the scene was of the 80s or early 90s darshan ground, prior to the Sai Kulwant hall days. Suddenly Swami moved forward towards where I was standing and everyone made a bee-line to make a passage for Him. I was very happy at this and readied myself to ask Bhagawan about my 'trip' and His help. As He came in front of me, He smiled bewitchingly and put something into my hands. It looked like some white, amorphous substance (not vibhuti/sacred ash). The word that came to my mind was mysterious: 'manna'. I knelt at His feet and took a namaskar and said, "Swami, BSM's health". Swami smiled at me and glided away even as I mumbled , "Swami, visa (for the 'trip')" He wasn't there any longer. 

I woke up, wondering at what was coming next; His dreams always come with a message, an indication, a prior protection, a warning but with the built-in assurance that He would take care. 

Friday, 18 October 2013

The 'PECULIAR' Life

I once read  a saying that went like this:
A DEVOTEE is different, because he/she is one of God's 'PECULIAR PEOPLE'
Truly, in the pragmatic world, a 'devotee' stands out as a misfit. They seem to function in incomprehensible ways, with motives that seem suspicious, if not 'peculiar', yes there is that word again ! How do they at all live, wonders the pragmatist. Well, here is a clue to their underlying life dictum:

Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill to protect the Gopas/Gopikas and cows of Vrindavan, from Indra's wrath in the form of torrential rain


Just think about it. See if you have any of these characteristics, doesn't matter which religion you belong to or which God you adore. There are certain qualities common to all devotees (I mean the true ones, not the showy kind). Here is a checklist:
1. The devotee is 'in love' with GOD (abstract Entity with many names and forms). Everyone else, including parents, siblings, spouse, children, friends and authority figures (!!!) come second in their list; the resulting scenarios can be imagined
2. He/she will do anything if they feel it is their God's (or Guru's) command or God's work; the same interest is not seen in other matters, they may even appear lazy or irresponsible (w.r.t. social obligations)
3. They will light up in the company of other 'devotees' (i.e. other peculiar people of their brand) as though they are meeting with long-lost twins (popular story-line in Hindi films); at other times, they have a dull or even morose disposition ! A personality disorder not yet understood or recognized in psychiatry
4. They work by intuition, some 'inner calling, etc ; unnecessary risk-takers; but eventually it all fits together. Hence sometimes accused of withholding key information by rivals; actually they themselves are in the dark, till their GOD comes to their rescue, usually in the very last minute ! He usually does (come to their rescue, that is !)
5. Seem indecisive, impractical sometimes. But finally they turn out the 'winner'!!!!! 

So what do you say? How many of these 'symptoms' do you have ?! How far advanced is your disease? There is no known cure: but consultations with the Divine Physician are free and not bound by time or place. HE is always 'ON CALL'
And what is the name of this incurable disease? It is called 'Divine Discontent". Till you return to the Source from where you have come, this discontent will gnaw away at you, no matter what you may try to fill it with. Why? The answer is: 

Teilhard de Chardin was a visionary French Jesuit, paleontologist, biologist, and philosopher,who spent the bulk of his life trying to integrate religious experience with natural science, most specifically Christian theology with theories of evolution.

 










Monday, 16 September 2013

6. ONAM at Prasanthi Nilayam: NOTES from the ANANTAPUR experience

1990 was a remarkable year for many Divine reasons. There were many blissful experiences with Bhagawan that I hope to cover eventually :) However one incident that comes to mind is the very significant ONAM festival of that year, when Bhagawan chose to grant a special blessing to the Anantapur students which continues till date. 

Traditionally celebrated as the visit of Emperor Mahabali on his annual visit to his erstwhile kingdom, Onam is a festival peculiar to the small state of Kerala situated at the south-western coast of the Indian peninsula. It is a harvest festival with the legend of King Mahabali and the Vamana avatar of Lord Vishnu in the background of the festivities. Primarily, Onam is a time for home-coming for all Keralites, whichever part of the globe they might be. Perhaps, one parallel to this unique, emotionally bonding  festival would be Durga Pujo in Bengal during the Navaratri/Dassera period

When I joined the campus, I was told by my seniors, that during Onam, usually all the Malayalee girls would get a chance to visit Parthi and have Bhagawan's darshan, though it was not a declared holiday in the Institute. I was very thrilled by this, for Parthi was after all my true 'home'. As luck would have it, that year and the next two years, Onam trips did not automatically materialise as I had thought. Exams intervened, and though we managed a 'half-trip', finally in 1989, we received a missive from the Registrar that nobody from Anantapur should visit Prasanthi during Onam. We (i.e. the Kerala girls in the hostel) were crestfallen and very perturbed because this was now 'official'. No more special Onam trips to see the Lord; the Institute had spoken! Our hostel warden, respected Jayalakshmi Gopinath ma'm, who sympathised with our plight but could do nothing, encouraged us to celebrate Onam in the Hostel that year, i.e. 1989. So dolefully, we did that and made the best of it. 
The Kerala  girls in 1989 with the warden in front of the Hostel
The 'attham', traditional floral decoration

That was the only year when no students from Anantapur could go to Prasanthi Nilayam for Onam. With the typical hyperbole of youth, we were lamenting at the cruel circumstance when Divinity was celebrating Onam (our 'only' festival, for the others it was not emotionally relevant) with people from all over the world and here we were, His own daughters, a stone's throw away, bound by 'unjust' rules. Most of us could not stomach it. Many representations went to the Principal till exasperated, and rightfully so (!!!) she conveyed to the warden that no one from the hostel was to pester her regarding this matter. Some desperate souls even wrote to the Institute and that was when the official 'ban' happened ! Gloomily and bleakly, we made a half-hearted show of observing the festival in the hostel, (see photos for the marked absence of gaiety in our faces!) and I remember how the warden instructed the cooks to prepare Kerala delicacies that day, to lift up our spirits.
A typical ONAM 'sadya' (feast) served on a plantain leaf
That year went by with all its lessons and 1990 dawned. As I said, it was a very wonderful year with a personal interview with the Lord for our batch, an exquisite Summer Course at Brindavan, a dramatic Gokulashtami (story for another day!) and so on. Perhaps Bhagawan's graciousness had emboldened our hearts  . . . The season of Onam approached and so did our hopes rise. We had just been called by Bhagawan to Prasanthi for Gokulashtami; the next week was Ganesh Chaturthi and the following week was Onam. Even today, my hairs stand on end when I recollect those sublime days and moments with Swami !
Two of us seniors called for a meeting of all the Malayalee girls in the hostel. We had to try for a Onam trip and we had to strategise. When all doors close and all human effort fails, then the Divine is the only recourse. It was at Anantapur that I learnt the efficacy of COLLECTIVE PRAYER. So we decided we would do just that and we would concretise it by writing to Swami every day, imploring Him to call us for Onam. Meanwhile some pragmatic souls wondered about the authorities and what about talking to them. I felt that since they had categorically told us not to irritate them, what was the point in aggravating the situation further. Also wasn't Bhagawan the CHANCELLOR of the Institute? So, let us address our letters to that highest authority, the head of the Institute. So far, so good, one would think.
But when I returned to my room, I was very uneasy. Disquiet haunted me. Something was not right in our approach. True, Bhagawan was the Chancellor of the Institute, but beyond that wasn't He our closest Friend, the soul-Companion over countless births? Why impose this official distance between Him and us? Swami was subtly teaching all of us a profound lesson! Yad bhavam tad bhavati (As is the feeling, so is the experience)That very day, I again called all my 'co-conspirators' (for a noble cause, though!) and discussed with them that we should write to Swami 'right from the heart', since He is the heart-dweller and not official letters, positing an artificial distance. And so we did that.
Ganesh Chaturthi arrived and we were preparing to go to Prasanthi. Meanwhile, Bhagawan had come in a few dreams of the diligent letter-writers and promised to call us. Though I was organising this endeavour, I wasn't actually writing to Him, though I prayed every day. Just as I was about to board the bus for Parthi, a junior of mine hurried up to me; she had a significant dream of Bhagawan that morning and I was in it too. The dream went like this:
Bhagawan was in a room and I was hesitating at the door with a pile of letters in my hand. He graciously calls me in, accepts the letters and tells me that all of us could come and see Him for Onam. Then as an after-thought, He added, "Come for TWO days"!
I believe Swami's dreams are His actual visitations, sometimes symbolic, sometimes prophetic. But 'two days' sounded a bit remote; that too the very next week with exams round the corner; anyway I was happy that Swami recognised me as 'letter-deliverer'!
During darshan, that Ganesh Chaturthi day, many letters were handed over to Bhagawan, pleading for our Onam trip. Not just us, the rest of the girls too (bless them all!) were 'recommending' our case through slips of paper saying, "Swami, call the Malayalee girls". Swami nonchalantly and swiftly collected all the letters and all the tiny slips of paper. But no one spoke aloud to Swami, as we had pre-decided; I did not want the authorities to feel that we were rebelling or trying to put anyone down. However, who can object to a silent prayer?
That evening we were in luck. Bhagawan called all of us into the mandir (Bhajan-Hall) for a campus Interview. We all rushed in and as usual I was somewhere at the back; Bhagawan's voice just reached us as He gave us all a Discourse. Then came the bowls of prasadam, the Arati was offered and then He would be gone. 
Suddenly, Swami paused, looked around and CASUALLY enquired in His soft voice, "How many Kerala girls are there ?!" Confused murmurs; He asked again and this time, many hands shot up; I felt too weak to lift mine and my class-mates had to prod me! Then directly looking at our Principal, respected Prof. Hemalatha ma'm, Bhagawan said, "Send them next week for Onam to Prasanthi Nilayam."  

Bhagawan speaking to us in the 'mandir'

I remember coming out of the mandir in a daze, as everyone congratulated us on our way back to our dormitories. It was so unbelievably exhilarating; so numbingly unexpected this downpour of His Grace! Can we ever be completely ready to RECEIVE when He finally answers the call? We keep praying for something and when the Lord answers, we blink in surprise. It is our readiness that is the criteria for prayers to be answered. Delays to prayers are often because, Bhagawan WAITS for us and not the other way round! Bhagawan had answered and in a trice all the anxiety, the despair, the uncertainty, were just washed away!
When we went back to the Hostel, we were summoned to make a list of girls who would be going the next week. The cordial atmosphere was unbelievable. From 'impractical rebels' we had become 'heroines' ! As Bhagawan has said somewhere, when God accepts and acknowledges you, the whole world will do the same. With Him you are a HERO and without Him a mere zero.
And so we returned the following week. Keeping my junior's dream in mind, I packed an extra set of clothes, though we had permission only for one day. We reached Prasanthi and sat for Bhagawan's darshan. I remember that Onam how He called one small child from the crowd, handed him a basket of sweets and then with the child following Him, went around the whole Darsan area throwing chocolates to all the kids assembled there. 

The next day, after the morning darshan (that usually got over by 7.00 a.m.), we were to leave by pre-arranged vans. We would reach Anantapur by 9.00 in time for college. I hung around, dawdling, hoping  secretly and in the process got some scoldings from the teacher-in-charge :(
We came near the vans with our luggage to find the driver missing ! As we waited, our teacher in high tension (she had to reach on time to sign in the attendance register) and we in abandon, the driver appeared, shaking his head. "We cannot leave now, madam; there is a BANDH (a shutdown) today" !!!!!
And that is how Bhagawan called us for "TWO DAYS' as He had promised in the dream ! Nothing is beyond the reach of prayer, except that which is beyond the Will of God. After that historic day, every year without fuss, the students from Anantapur came to Parthi participate in the Onam festivities, with official sanction.

ONAM in 2008


FAST-FORWARD to the year 2005:
It was Onam time and the State organisation of Kerala had come prepared with three days of programmes, involving children and professional artistes. Many devotees had also come to spend Onam in the Divine Presence. But Bhagawan was in a strange mood. He wasn't talking much and in fact He finally cancelled all the programmes that year, asking the Office-bearers to go back.
Was He not in favour of too many extravagant programmes? Was it due to the minor tsunami that struck Kerala a few days later and? Or was there some other reason? One can surmise but never gauge the causes why such things happen. All of them left, including the children. But devotees stayed back and sat for darshan on Onam day, in their traditional simple, white attire. I too was sitting amidst them. There was not a single decoration in the Hall. This had not happened for years, so the mood was sombre. Bhagawan came in the car, slowly surveying the Hall. In the middle, He stopped and spoke to a lady. Soon He came near me and as though in slow motion, the car stopped, the window rolled down and Bhagawan gave me an enquiring look. I got up and went to the window, where He asked me : "Why are they all sitting here?". I answered what He willed: "Swami, they have come here for Your DARSHAN." And the Lord's reply before the window rolled up was :"Aithe, MANCHIDI" (If so, GOOD) 



Were priorities being tested by God ? Why exactly have you come here? Is it for the sake of the Divine One or do you have  other motives? Whatever maybe so, the significance of DARSHAN can never be over-rated, nor taken for granted, even today,





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