Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Practice makes one perfect and attracts God's grace - Ashwath Narayan's experience with Sathya Sai_ Part 1

Day: 1st November, 2009
Venue: The Brabourne Cricket stadium, Mumbai
Time: 6:10 pm

Thousands of people had gathered in the stadium to have a glimpse of their ‘Swami’ who was visiting Mumbai after a decade. Dharmakshetra, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s abode in Mumbai (at Andheri) had long ceased to have sufficient space to accommodate the thronging thousands who wished to have his darshan. Thus, the Sri Sathya Sai Seva Organizations, Maharashtra, had organized different programmes at different large venues around Mumbai. In this way, everyone could get the opportunity of seeing Him once at least during the 2-day visit. The event at Brabourne stadium - a concert by Santoor maestro Rahul Sharma - was meant to be a grand finale before the curtains came down on the Mumbai visit.

Ashwath Narayan sat on the carpeted stadium lawns with the other members of the entourage which had accompanied Swami, first to Hadshi and from there to Mumbai. Almost all the members of the entourage were singers and musicians. They were naturally excited to be here. But it was not because of the prospects of hearing a maestro play the Santoor! It was because of an instruction that Swami had privately given them the day before.
“Get ready with songs. You will be performing tomorrow in the cricket stadium.”
They were possibly the only people other than Swami who knew that there would be no Santoor concert that day.

Bhagawan Baba arrived to the stadium and ascended the huge stage that had been erected. After the opening formalities, the announcement was made which simultaneously surprised and thrilled the audience - the evening programme would be by the students and staff from Puttaparthi. Ashwath stiffened and readied himself. He was scheduled to sing a complicated Carnatic song, Shiva Shankari.

As they had lined up in front of Swami to take padanamaskar before the programme, Swami exchanged a meaningful glance Ashwath.
“Ready”, he asked.
“Yes Swami. You must only sing through all of us...”
Swami seemed satisfied. The programme began with a couple of bhajans and an opening song by the magical Ravikumar. There was a happy applause. That was when Swami turned to Ashwath and gave a slight nod. The microphone was thus placed before him. Offering a mental prostration at Swami’s feet and closing his eyes, Ashwath began.

The initial Alaap itself muted the audience into spellbound admiration. Very soon, Ashwath was exploring the various highs and lows of the song which is set in Raag Darbari. The highlight of the song originally sung by the legendary Ghantasala, is a rapid-fire sequence of notes towards the end. This day, Ashwath managed to sing it sang it one and a half times faster than Ghantasala himself! He also sang it half a note higher than the legend and added many more gamaks (turnings), khadkas and murkis than the original singer!

{I consider myself very privileged to have been witness to the magic weaved that day by Ashwath Narayan. And in order to appease the curious reader’s hunger for that unforgettable rendering, I offer to you, that song for which I have placed a few photos that I shot that day as visuals. In the photos you can also see the maestro Rahul Sharma seated behind Swami’s chair.}

The Live audio recording with a collage of pictures from
that memorable day at Brabourne stadium.

In fact, when the song had been rendered, it took a few moments for people to wake up from their joyous stupor and offer a huge round of applause. Swami turned and looked at Ashwath. Was there a tear in the divine eyes? The face seemed puffed in joyous pride at what His boy had done. The hand went up a bit in silent blessing and benediction. Once again, His boy had become one with Him as he had allowed the magical notes to flow out through his voice.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A miracle of patience - Harish's story with Sri Sathya Sai

The beautiful days of darshan in the Sai Ram shed, under the tree in Brindavan. 
A short and sweet story of a wedding

It was the summer of 1991. A group of volunteers dressed in their best whites waited in eager anticipation outside Trayee Brindavan, the beautiful lotus-shaped edifice in yellow and pink, which served as the residence of Bhagawan Baba whenever He visited His Brindavan ashram in the garden city of Bangalore. The volunteers had completed their week of service at the ashram for which their ‘Swami’ (the respectful and endearing manner in which Baba is addressed) had promised to bless them with padanamaskar (the chance to offer prostrations at the feet).

Swami returned from the Sai Ram Shed, a large canopy around a huge tree, after granting darshan and sitting through the bhajan session. He headed straight towards the seated volunteers and began to bless them. One of them got up on his knees and prayed,
“Swami, my daughter has reached marriageable age. You must find a groom for her...”
Swami smiled and accepted his prayer but told him to wait before moving on. As He neared the end of the line, one other volunteer got up on his knees and prayed,
“Swami, my son has reached marriageable age. You must find a bride for him...”
“Very happy”, said Swami and turned around. He beckoned to the devotee who had prayed for a groom. The alliance was finalised instantly in the Divine presence and both devotees were left with happy faces.

“Once Swami gives a word, He always keeps it. I never thought it would happen so fast though”, the groom’s father remarked to D.R.Harish, his son who had recently turned twenty seven. Harish was happy that his bride had been chosen by Swami. Ever since he had completed his BSc in Swami’s college at Brindavan in 1986, he had wanted to stay with and serve Swami. Thus, he followed the footsteps of his father who was a member of the Seva Dal, the volunteer force initiated by Bhagawan Baba. He considered it a great blessing to obtain Trayee duty - service within the compound wall of His Lord’s Residence.

With Swami’s blessings, the wedding was held on 2nd October, 1991. It was a happy ending to the short story of Harish’s betrothal. It was also the beginning of another story - one that would demonstrate comprehensively the power in the Lord’s word and Harish’s faith in the same.

The beginning of an epic

Early in 1992, after his wife underwent a regular medical check up, Harish was called aside by Dr. Savitriamma of the Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital, Whitefield.
“It is very surprising that your wife has a very atrophied uterus. It has shrunk so much that it is even theoretically not possible for you to have a child. I am telling you because I want you to break it as gently as possible to her. Such things will break any woman’s heart...”

Harish was in a daze. He did not know how he would convey this to his wife. He shared it with his parents who took it in the right spirit.
“Swami has chosen the girl for you. Swami knows everything. He will take care.”
That faith mirrored his own and so, Harish decided not to reveal this to his wife at all!

It was not long before his in-laws began to talk about a grandchild and his wife, about a child. The couple decided to have a child but Harish still did not break the news. Years passed in this manner and naturally, the couple did not get any children. That was when Harish’s wife, on the insistence of her parents, accompanied them to a fertility clinic. It was sometime in 1998 that they got to know about the uterus that had shrunk further.

“Why didn’t you tell us about this?”, they questioned Harish.
“How would it help anyway?”
“Did you tell Swami about this?”
“Why? You get so many opportunities in Trayee Brindavan almost on a daily basis...”
“So? Swami does not need to be told. He knows everything.”
“Arey! He knows you say... But what will you lose to tell Him once...”
“Ok. Let me see if Swami gives an opportunity.”

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

By giving we receive - Sai teaches me the generosity paradox

The Generosity Paradox

It is by chance that I came to know of the existence of the Generosity Paradox. By definition, a paradox is a statement that is self contradictory because it contains within itself, two parts which are both true and yet, cannot otherwise be true at the same time. The Generosity Paradox states that the more we give, the more we will receive. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own well-being. In other words, this means that by holding on possessively to what we currently have, we lose out on better things that we could have gained.

Both are true... Yet both are false - A Paradox!
It is easy to understand why this is called a paradox. Logic states that when we give we lose what we are parting with. On the other hand, by holding on we continue to possess what is valuable for us. That is the cold logic of a zero sum game - when some one gains, the other has to lose. Logic does not allow for a win-win situation because the material universe is finite. How then does generosity/kindness/goodness work?

It is interesting to note that the answer is simple and it has sound logic backing it. I discovered this answer for myself by travelling through the lanes and by-lanes of my memories that have been neatly recorded in several personal diaries. Needless to say it involves an experience with my Master and best friend, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

The ‘handkerchief chance’

During the late 90’s and early years of the new millennium, Swami used to bless the students with one special kind of chance - the handkerchief chance. Unlike the years before and after, 1997-2001 saw Swami walk alone during darshan without anyone following Him. He would collect and carry all the letters which devotees offered on His own. Thus, when He materialized vibhuti (holy ash) for any devotee, any student (of the Sri Sathya Sai school or college) in possession of a handkerchief could run up to Him and offer the same for Him to wipe His hands on. Naturally, the student who was seated closest to where the materialization happened was in the best position to avail this ‘handkerchief chance’! I was a regular to leap at this chance and often carried two handkerchiefs daily to mandir. In fact, my first, memorable interaction with Him was also through this kerchief chance.

Scanning through the pages of my diary, I understand that the 21st of December, 1998 was special for me because I got this handkerchief chance with Swami. What I realize today is that it was also a chance for me to experience the generosity paradox firsthand.

As always, I reached the mandir and scoured the devotees’ sitting areas for whom I felt might get vibhuti from Swami. This was like picking a ticket for a lottery because several other students with handkerchiefs in their pockets too would be on a lookout for probable places where they could avail the ‘handkerchief chance’! I finally settled in front someone who seemed lost in meditation. I felt that Vibhuti might be gifted to him as a fruit of his sadhana. Isn’t it amazing how we are constantly evaluating and judging people!
Soon, the music filled the air and the beautiful form in orange came floating into the hall. It took about fifteen minutes for Swami to come near where I was seated. He paused for a while and looked at me. Then, moving over to the opposite side, he crossed my meditating man. A couple of feet ahead, He paused again and spoke to someone. The way He took a step behind and held out His right palm, I knew that He was about to materialize something - vibhuti mostly. I tensed my muscles, ready to sprint on confirmation of the vibhuti. The next second, I was off.

A 'handkerchief chance' that was captured by a camera. The camera was a cheap one but it
captured an invaluable memory.
Swami distributed the vibhuti He had just created to several people seated there. After that He turned to me, took the handkerchief, wiped His hand thoroughly and walked on throwing the kerchief back at me. I put the kerchief into my pocket and, from my other pocket, pulled out small sheets of paper. I distributed these to the blessed ones to safely store their gifts of grace in. That was when one of the devotees, a westerner, asked me for one more sheet of paper. I was surprised but I gave it to him nevertheless. He shook his head to say no and again asked me for something, pointing to my other pocket. I realized that he was asking me for the handkerchief! I just smiled at him and ran back to my place.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Slow Miracles are also miracles - an experience with Sathya Sai

This is a story that has spanned nearly two decades... and it comes with a powerful message. The story seemed to culminate
on the 22nd of November, 2010, the last Convocation of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in the
physical presence of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. 
When I think of a miracle, the words that come to mind are along these lines - unimaginable, stunning, fast, mind-blowing, unbelievable, happy, unnatural, mysterious, extraordinary. I am sure that the list is much larger but this sampling of words is sufficient for my present context.  Among these words, in my opinion, a key one is ‘fast’. A miracle has to happen suddenly and fast. Then only will it be ‘unbelievable’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘mysterious’ and ‘unimaginable’. If it does not happen fast, then I don’t consider it a miracle. Speed is of essence here.

A magician puts a seed into a pot and covers the pot with a cloth. He pulls away the cloth mumbling some abracadabra and presto! There is a flowering plant. I applaud hard for him. Yet, when the same thing happens over the span of a few months in the pot in my balcony, I hardly notice. Sometimes, I don’t even pause to admire the beauty of the multi-petalled jasmine or enjoy its rich fragrance. It is all my obsession with speed. I give so much importance to speed that I applaud its presence in a magic show though I know what is happening is false but I refuse to acknowledge a true miracle of God in my balcony!

God can do things in a trice but He is not obsessed with speed! Sometimes He does things real fast; the other times he does it slow. Do I miss out on miracles in my life just because they happen slowly? I am convinced that is the case because, looking back at my life with Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, I am slowly discovering several slow miracles that have happened. And I thought that sharing one such miracle would be my way of expressing gratitude to my Swami.

When shooting became difficult...

When I joined the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School in 1998, like many other students, my sole aim was to gain the physical proximity and blessings of Swami. One of the ways in which I intended to achieve my goal was through photography. I had been blessed with a good SLR camera thanks to my dad and I intended to put it to good use in taking me closer to my Guru and my God. However, there were multiple obstacles to this plan of mine.

  1. I was not the only one with a camera or the idea of using it as a means to get closer to Swami. Several senior students and a few teachers too were regular photographers in the Sai Kulwant hall. I was possibly the most junior among all photographers. I felt that I would have to really work my way up the ladder to catch Swami’s eye.
  2. It was necessary to get a permission slip from the warden in order to carry a camera to the Mandir. The Seva Dal volunteers at the gate would ask for this slip before allowing one to carry the camera inside. The warden would regulate the number of people carrying a camera lest they become a trigger-happy nuisance in the sacred temple. So, I could possibly take the camera once or twice a week for darshan. The competition for permission slips became more intense on festival days when there were greater chances of Swami spending time outside.
  3. The school warden had an interesting (and, in my opinion, sadistic) strategy to combat what he considered as indiscipline and reward what he felt was discipline. He would find out what was closest to the heart to different students and deny them that as punishment. For instance, when I was protested what I thought was a wrong decision on the cricket field (where the warden was the umpire), the warden didn’t issue the camera permission slip to me for more than two months! He knew that taking the camera was so important for me and strategically punished me in that manner. This was just one example. Many lesser ‘crimes’ of mine were also punished in the same manner. Therefore, I lived in constant fear of the warden coming in the way of my plan to become a regular photographer in the Mandir.

Friday, 20 May 2016

I am God and You are God - Swami's core teaching

The Bourne Identity

I remember watching an action thriller movie by the name, “The Bourne Identity”. It was the story of an amnesiac (person suffering a memory-loss) who attempts to discover his true identity. He has many special skills, talents, abilities and a super intelligence. Yet, he has no idea about who he is, where he came from and where he should be headed to. He keeps living in the world, enjoying many successes and the love of a companion while constantly trying to avoid the pitfalls, problems and plots against him. More importantly, he is also trying to find out who he is and where he came from using all his abilities and intelligence.

The movie was indeed a ‘thriller’ for me as it thrilled me in more than one way! Of course, the action and the unfolding of the plot kept me gripped but even amidst that tension and drama, my dear Swami inspired a thought from within. 

A still from the movie - Bourne Identity. The 'hero' has multiple identities (read as passports) but none of them are his true identity. 
All of us are like the protagonist in that movie. We have our own set of special skills, talents, abilities and intelligence. But, we have no idea of where we have come from, where we are going to and who we are. We have become amnesiacs in that respect! We too should take inspiration from the protagonist and utilize all our skills, abilities and intelligence in finding out our true identities. More often than not, we use them to just to deal with day-to-day living and forget all about the quest. Seeking the reality should happen at least in the theoretical and intellectual level before becoming a part of our being!

That is why Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba often stresses, 
Education should be for life and not for mere living. 

Our "Born" Identity

It was during one of the famous Trayee Sessions at the Brindavan Ashram in Whitefield (Bengaluru) that the following episode took place.

Trayee sessions were always memorable but this one was poignant too in the message it conveyed.
Swami entered the jhoola room (the room where there is an ornate swing on which Swami sits). Even as He walked in, it appeared as though He was lost in thought. After a while, He looked at the students and asked,
“Do you all believe that I am God?”

Sitting among the students, I wondered what sort of a question this was -
"Was the Lord in doubt? He has been the one who has always encouraged me to develop Self-confidence and He is asking this question today?"
These were the foolish thoughts that cross a deluded mind and mine was in total delusion. I joined the chorus of all the students as we screamed out, 
“Yes Swami.”
Swami seemed to feel a little better. And then, He made a second statement which was like another question for us...

“Then, all that I speak is the Truth...”

That was more of a statement than a question and we all responded in the same enthusiasm and energy,
“Yes Swami.”

In an instant, Swami said,
“All of you are also God.”

There was pin-drop silence. Everyone just looked at Him. There was no resounding, “Yes Swami” for that statement. We 'believe' Swami is God and 'believe' that all His words are the 'Highest Truth' but can simply not digest it when He says that we are no different from Him! 
When I look back at this incident today, I feel that Swami might have been disappointed with us that day!

Believing we are God - the 'gravity' of the situation
Swami's core teaching is the fact that everyone is divine. When asked about whether he was God, Swami replied,

Yes, I am God and so are you. The only difference between you and I is that while I am aware of this fact, you are not.

However, we do not seem to accept this Truth. We find it difficult to ‘believe’ that and so, life which was meant to be a beautiful dream of the Lord, turns into a nightmare!

But wait a minute! What is the big deal in believing we are God?

There is a HUGE deal in fact! That is because, whether we believe it or not, the fact remains - just like the working of gravity.

There was once a person who pooh-poohed gravity saying that he did not believe it existed. However hard anybody tried to convince him with theories and experiments, he was simply not ready to believe in gravity's existence. A wise man told him to step of the terrace of a tall building for he did not believe in gravity. The ‘hero’ backed off! Whether one believes in gravity or not, it exists and works. So too, whether we believe in our divinity or not, it works and every thought that arises in us is indeed the Vajra Sankalpa.Our will is as powerful as the Will of God for it is indeed the Will of God!

And THAT is the greatest secret of life!

Now we see the practical implications. Every time a negative thought arises in our head, we are actually God willing something negative. Though it is only the positive that we seek, we end up thinking negative. For instance, we want to have good relations with everyone around and do not want to hate or abhor anyone. However, when a ‘marked’ person comes close we start thinking,
“Oh my god! Here he comes. I know now he is going to irritate me!”

And when the outcome happens just as we thought, we feel that though we seek good, we end up with bad. It is not the intent but the content of our thoughts that matter. For our thoughts are the thoughts of God!

My mind instantly flashed back to the 21st of July, 2008. It was the second day of the Educare conference in Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi. Swami had granted a very special opportunity for the participants to ask questions of Him. He would answer them personally, He had promised. The first question and answer was in itself sufficient for life, nay lifetimes together.

1) For students, what is the way to have a relationship with God?

Ans - Why students alone? God is in you. Live in Love as one with God. It is only when God is considered as separate that you need a relationship. He is not separate. God is in me and is me. Have this identity firmly entrenched in your being.

And that is our ‘Born’ identity - So Hum!

If you enjoyed this, here are another article on the same theme. It is about the day when Swami, the Lord, prostrated to His devotees! 

The final Namaskar - the ultimate message of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba

For all the readers:

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Thursday, 24 March 2016

Why should I be good? An answer inspired by the Master...

A small episode at the Yajur Mandir

It was a warm afternoon in the divine hamlet of Puttaparthi. Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba or Swami (as devotees reverentially address Him) was at His residence in the Yajur Mandir. He was listening to the Radiosai broadcast that day. Along with Him was also a lad who was massaging His feet. The discussion on the radio was on an interesting subject - whether atheists also could get liberation or the realization of the Ultimate Reality.
Prof. G.Venkatraman, a Padma Shri awardee in 1991 and the director at the Radiosai studios was fielding the above question. The answer he gave was this,
“No! Atheists cannot attain liberation. But if the atheist is a good person who does noble deeds, then, he will be blessed with a next birth into a god-loving family. Then, he will be able to attain liberation/salvation.”
While that answer by the professor seems like a convincing one for every theist, the lad who was with Swami was very intrigued by this question. He felt that maybe that was not the complete answer. Thus, he too was lost in his own thoughts about the question. After a while, he made bold to ask Swami,
“Swami, can atheists also attain liberation?”
Swami smiled and replied,
Yes! Anyone who can give up dehabhimanam can achieve liberation.

Dehabhimanam - What is it?

Before I proceed any further, let us clarify how Swami defines dehabhimanam or ego as it is termed in English. Ego is wrongly identified as vanity and pride. Swami states that ego refers to ‘false-identification’. Ego arises when an individual considers himself/herself as the body-mind complex. That is when the concept of ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ comes up. One begins to feel that this is ‘my family’, that is ‘my home’ or this is ‘my job’. Naturally, along with this also come the feelings that this is ‘not my problem’, that is ‘not my friend’ or this is ‘not my job’.
Swami says that when one feels as a separate entity, a being distinct from everyone and everything else, this is false-identification/ego/dehabhimanam. When one realizes the Truth that everyone and everything in the universe is a spark/subset of the same divinity and thus feels unity with all, that is correct-identification/egolessness/daivabhimanam.
And here was Swami saying that anybody who is able to give up false-identification or ego will attain liberation (irrespective of whether one is good or bad, theist or atheist).

A train of thoughts

Experience had taught me that every word of Swami is Truth itself. In fact, innumerable have been the instances which have proved that His word is the vedavakya and that once it is said even casually or in jest, it is bound to be true. So when I heard about this statement that Swami made, I was lost in thoughts of my own. And am sure, anybody who reads this statement too may get such thoughts. They went like this,
“If everyone is equally capable of attaining the ultimate/liberation, then why this emphasis on being devoted to God?" The mind is a specialist in extrapolation. Extrapolating Swami’s statement and needling me a little deeper, it asks,
"If everyone can get liberation, then does God not distinguish even between the ‘good’ people and the ‘bad’ people?”
I was plagued by this thought and try as hard as I did, I was not able to figure out an answer. Recently, I walked to my altar and sat in peace and quiet. I just prayed and told Swami,
“If both the theist and the atheist, the good and the bad have equal chance of attaining liberation, why should one love God or be good? Does not the Lord support the good and the devoted?” (Please note that this thought, in no way, intends to equate theists with 'goodness' and atheists with 'badness'! )
And then, there was silence as I sat. After a while, an answer formed within,

Monday, 22 February 2016

Being Good and Appearing Good, both are important_Part 3

That was my feeling towards Swami as I thought about the whole thing...
Not faxes but acceptance

The fax had been received but apparently, my apology had not been accepted. During the darshan, the ignoring continued. Swami refused to look towards me and I did not feel like making any extra efforts to draw His attention. The next day, in the morning, I went to the fax shop and sent another one. This was a longer apology and I pleaded with Swami that I would not be so foolish again (as though it was totally in my control)! The evening darshan turned out to be a repeat of the previous days as far as Swami breaking the ice with me was concerned.

That night, I thought that there was nothing more that could be done in terms of ‘apologising’ or ‘explaining’ via letters. I decided that my third fax to Swami would also be the final one. In it, I wrote that Swami knew everything. He was the resident of my heart and even if my own mind and hand made mistakes in putting out what my heart held, He would not misunderstand. I surrendered to Him saying that I was ready for whatever He wished and I would not be writing any more apology letters. Having sent that, my mind felt at ease for the first time. That is the magic of acceptance and surrender. When one is ready to embrace whatever God has planned, the mind rests and all tensions/stresses vanish. Things immediately seem to improve though Swami’s behaviour towards me did not change.

{This is the third part of this story which will make better sense if read after the first two parts. In case you have missed it, the first part is at the link below:

Then came the evening of the 24th of December. It was exactly one year to the day when Swami had accepted my offer to be my best friend! It had been an unforgettable occasion. Today, one year later, it was ironical that we were not even on terms of looking each other in the eye! There was a programme by the overseas devotees celebrating Christmas Eve. And here I was wiping away my tears on the 1st anniversary of best-friendship! I was seated far away from Swami. It was good in a way because nothing is more painful than sitting under His nose and being completely ignored by Him.

Sitting far away from Him on the 1st year anniversary of my "best-friendship" day!
Before going forward with the story, I must share a few thoughts here on being good and appearing good.

Heartfelt explanation

When the question of being good or appearing good comes up, most of us tend to lean towards being good, irrespective of how we appear to the world. The argument given is that it is definitely impossible to please everyone. Aesop has given us a famous fable in his inimitable style to impress this very message.