Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Part 3 - Practice makes one perfect and attracts God's grace - Ashwath Narayan's experience with Sathya Sai

Familiarity should breed regularity

Along with daily bhajans, Ashwath was now required to regularly sing songs and Alaap bhajans (Bhajans that have a slow, solo vocal as an introduction). There were two Alaap bhajans in particular that Swami would command Ashwath to sing on several occasions, out of the blue. One was a bhajan that Swami referred to as Shlokam. It was a Rama bhajan that had an alaap, “Sri Raghavam Dasharatha Atmajam”. The other was a Sarva-Dharma bhajan which begins with the Alaap:

Allah Hu Akbar, Allahu Akbar
Awwal Allah Noor Upaya Qudrat Keh Sub Banday
Aik Noor Keh Sub Jag Upajiya Kaun Bhale Ko Mandhe

Looking back, Ashwath feels that there is a special reason why Swami made him sing that Alaap repeatedly. The meaning of that Alaap is so beautiful. If one is blessed with the awareness, conviction and experience of that meaning, one would have discovered the panacea for all problems. The meaning goes as follows:

God is Great. God created light of which all the beings were born,
And from this ONE light, the universe; so who is good and who is bad?

Familiarity often breeds neglect if not contempt. It requires extensive Sadhana and intensive efforts to value something even when it is available in abundance. This holds good for everything - food, water, health, relationships and even Swami’s proximity and grace. There was an episode which made Ashwath resolve that he would never take Swami for granted.

Probably one of the greatest honors for Ashwath was getting the opportunity to give music to and sing a song whose lyrics were written by Swami Himself to explain the Sri Sathya Sai Avatar.

{If you have arrived to this part directly, it is recommended that you read the first two parts before this finale. It will make for more enjoyable and suspenseful reading.

Swami seemed unhappy with the singers who accompanied him to Chennai for the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam in January 2007, Ashwath included. That unhappiness seemed to continue even after His return to Puttaparthi. One of those days, Swami entered the bhajan hall and spoke to the singers of the bhajan group. Apparently some devotee had passed comments on the quality of singing and Swami was not feeling good about it. He told it to the boys. Ashwath saw how much Swami cared about their reputations. Swami was emphasizing both - being good and appearing good. They prayed,
“Swami, if your grace is there, we will not get into such situations.”
“There is Grace. There is Grace in abundance. Out of all the people seated here, so few are in the bhajan hall. Out of them, only few of you are selected. You do not understand the value of grace... You are all fit to only eat grass...”

Friday, 26 August 2016

Part 2 - Practice makes one perfect and attracts God's grace - Ashwath Narayan's experience with Sathya Sai

Brindavan, the place where a student develops pining

The absence of the Sadguru or God in one’s life is indeed an unfortunate situation. However, if that absence comes after one has tasted the Grace of the Sadguru or God, it becomes a blessing. Then, it increases the pining in the heart for one’s Sadguru or God. The Brindavan campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning served as a fertile ground where the devotion of the students and teachers alike grew by pining for the physical form of Swami. Invariably, any student who graduated from XII grade would be sent to the Brindavan campus. Ashwath Narayan thus found himself as a student pursuing the Bachelors of Science degree for Biosciences at Brindavan. That was only the temporary pursuit - his ultimate goal was Swami.

If you have arrived here directly, you are requested to read this part after completing part 1 at the link below:

In an attempt to make up for Swami’s absence, many teachers in Brindavan hold Parayanam sessions. They narrate experiences with Swami to the students, feeding the flames of love for Swami. It was during one such Parayanam session with Sundareshan sir that Ashwath’s heart was set aflame with a desire. Sundareshan sir narrated the experiences of a bhajan singer, S.Ravikumar. The point that struck Ashwath deeply was the silent understanding between Ravikumar and Swami.
“Sometimes Swami indicates to Ravi to sing with a gentle eye-movement. That is enough for him to understand what Swami wants him to sing and when. Nobody else would have noticed but Ravi would have received the communication”, Sundareshan sir said.

'Ravi Bhaiya' or 'Ravi sir' has been an inspiration and role model for many generation of singers that included Ashwath also.
Ashwath knew Ravikumar. He was a legend among the bhajan singer and an icon who had shunned the possible glory that he could have achieved in the world in order to keep singing for Swami. Ashwath had also got the privilege of singing alongside him in the previous year at Brindavan. On that occasion Ashwath had himself sung the Kannada song, “Jagaddhodharana”. It was simply beautiful singing about the little Krishna in Brindavan.

Several days later, when Ashwath offered a rose to Swami before the Arati, Swami asked,
“Voice not good?”
Ashwath did not respond. He just sat at His feet.
Swami waved his palm, materialized vibhuti and gave it to him. Ashwath bowed and took padanamaskar. When he rose, Swami asked in Tamil,
“Sapdacha (Did you eat)?”
Ashwath understood and he put the entire vibhuti into his mouth. Swami then received Arati and left.

Even as he reminisced the day, a desire arose from the depths of Ashwath’s heart,
“How I wish to be able to receive communication from Swami like Ravikumar”, he thought.

As they say, “Do your best and God will do the rest”. Only the efforts rest in human realms but a lot can be done with efforts. Ashwath’s practice went in hand with his pining. The summer of 2004 came and with it, Swami arrived to Brindavan.  The students in Brindavan may get less number of days to interact with Swami but they get something very special - the Trayee Sessions. These were sessions with Swami inside His residence, Trayee Brindavan.

During one such Trayee Session, Ashwath had managed to sit in the front lines near the Jhoola on which Swami was seated. Swami was interacting with the students and teachers. Out of the blue, Ashwath felt Swami look at him from the corner of His eye. Ashwath straightened up and sat in all alertness. Then, it came! A very gentle eye-movement indicating to him to start. It was such a subtle movement that nobody noticed. But for Ashwath, it seemed as loud and clear as an oral order.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

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

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

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