Friday, 17 March 2017

The pilgrimage to Prasanthi Nilayam - a very special private discourse

The 3 stages of a pilgrimage

A journey or search with a spiritual significance and meaning is a pilgrimage. Frankly speaking, I cannot think of any other reason why anyone would want to visit Prasanthi Nilayam on a regular basis. If one comes as a tourist to enjoy a vacation, one is bound to get bored very soon. If one comes as a seeker of worldly comfort, one is bound to get disappointed. If one comes out of curiosity, he/she will leave once that curiosity is satiated. But if one has the slightest inclination to seek the spiritual, Prasanthi will attract him/her over and over again. For, after all, isn't the ultimate goal of a spiritual journey Prasanthi (Supreme Peace)?

That is why it is important that whenever we visit Puttaparthi, we treat it as a pilgrimage. Any pilgrimage has three stages.


Welcome to Prasanthi Nilayam... and there is Sri Sathya Sai's name greeting you even as you arrive!
The first stage is when you learn about the place, delve into its history (which is nothing short of delving into His Story) and develop reverence for it. There is faith that the journey to be undertaken is the most special one.
The second stage is the actual stay at the place with the conviction that each and every thing happening to oneself is part of a Masterplan that will help you in the spiritual journey.
The final stage is to return to one's home, carrying the place of pilgrimage in one's heart. Then, one shares about the journey to others in the spirit of selflessness. This sharing serves as the first stage for other wannabe pilgrims.

It is indeed a piece of good fortune that when it comes to Prasanthi Nilayam, we have the presiding deity speak on how one should prepare for it and benefit from it. This is a very special discourse that I located by the sheer grace of our beloved Swami. Though it was addressed to the overseas devotees, it applies to anybody coming to Prasanthi Nilayam even from within the country. Needless to say, it applies the most to people like me, who have made Prasanthi Nilayam their home. It is with great joy and love that I am sharing this discourse. It was first published in the Sathya Sai Newsletter, the 1984 Fall edition, on page 28. It is reproduced sincerely below.

Close your eyes, visualize your Swami sitting with you and speaking to you in all love. Then proceed with reading.

The unexpected call

On the evening of August 20, 1984, word was circulated within the ashram at Prasanthi Nilayam that Baba wished for all the foreigners to assemble in the mandir (temple) the next morning. So, shortly after eight on the morning of the 21st of August, virtually all of the foreigners crowded into the mandir bhajan hall. The doors and windows were ordered shut by Swami, and two translators were summoned. Mr. V K Narasimhan translated from Telugu to English, and Mr. Craxi translated from English to Italian. The transcript of that discourse follows below.


DISCOURSE BEGINS


What is the use of being a human without knowing what humanness is?


Having taken this precious birth as a human being, we must realize what that humanness means. Man means the mind. Mind means desires. The result of desires may be good or bad. You experience the consequence of those good or evil things in your daily life. Therefore, the first thing you have to do is to realize that you are human. Having been born as human beings, we must make an effort to live up to our human values. In matters relating to food, sleep, and enjoyment, the behavior of man has much in common with animals. We take food. We sleep. We enjoy the pleasures of the senses. Similarly, birds, animals, and other creatures also experience this. What is the distinction between human life and the life of other animals? What is the purpose of life?


Many people do not think about this. Having been born as human beings, we must live as human beings. There are four things in which we must behave like human beings.
  1. Discipline
  2. Manners
  3. Behavior
  4. Dress
Today we are living very much the life of animals. We think that man's job is to enjoy the senses. This is not true humanness. Compassion, love, adjustment, conduct, manners, understanding —these are the qualities that human beings should develop.


On multiple spouses...


In these days man is regarding life as consisting of sensual pleasure and, therefore, is wasting his time. You must realize that this is really animal behavior. You must develop character. Nowadays, man does not devote much attention to character. Without character man is like an animal. Animals have many husbands and wives. If man also, or woman, has many husbands or many wives, he or she is worse than the animals. So, you must develop the point of view of one husband and one wife.


What is the purpose of coming to Prasanthi Nilayam?


All of you are coming here spending a lot of money. Why are you coming? Are you regarding this as a picnic, or a holiday? Or are you regarding it as a tourist attraction? No! No! You have come to broaden your hearts. You must confirm the principle of Love. It is not a love based on selfishness. This is a love which is combined with Divinity. We must make a firm resolve to pursue the spiritual path. You must journey from the starting point of "my" and "mine" to "we" and ours." You must come to understand why you have come. You come after spending a lot of money, yet you are wasting your time strolling about and engaging in unnecessary and useless talk.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

When man's adversity becomes God's opportunity - Devesh Srivastava's tryst with death

Devesh Srivastava got into the front seat of the luxury car with a great deal of satisfaction. The task he had wanted to accomplish had been completed better than he had imagined. Savouring the sweet taste of success, he had decided to leave with his two friends, Manas and Vivek (*names changed to protect privacy). Manas was at the wheel while Vivek stretched himself in the backseat.


Devesh was on the verge of taking charge of his father’s company, N S Corporation, a talc mining firm which started with less than 25 employees in 1953. In the 40 years of it’s existence, the company had grown into the largest producer of talc ore in the present-day Uttarakhand state of India. Devesh’s plan was to make it the leading producer and exporter of high quality talc in the country with distributors in all states. Having been educated in the highly reputed Delhi Public School (R.K.Puram) and the St. Xaviers College (Calcutta), he knew that he had it in him to achieve his dream.


A glimpse of the kind of roads one encounters in these regions.
It was November 1994 and the chill descended very soon at Almora. Devesh gratefully turned on the heater in the car to complement the warmth of satisfaction he felt within himself. It would take more than 3 hours to cover the 90-odd kilometers between Almora and Haldwani (where the NS Corporation’s administrative office was located). That was because the roads in these mountainous regions were all narrow and curvy. Even an average speed of 30 km/h could be considered as good progress!

“Watch the road Manas! In your hurry to take us to the next town, don’t take us to the next world!” Vivek quipped.
“Back-seat driving as always Vivek! Just relax. I have got it all covered.” Manas replied.
“These curves and bends are treacherous”, said Devesh, “and I don’t mind if we go a bit slow...”
“Says a man who is ever so quick to reach his goals”, Manas laughed aloud, “I am just doing on the road what you are doing in life!”


A steep curve to the left was coming up ahead and Devesh felt that Manas had not slowed the car enough to navigate it safely. Manas seemed to sense his unease and indicated to him to relax. With the panache of a Formula-1 driver, Manas went to the extreme right of the road to give himself greater room at the curve. He knew that there was a deep ravine on the other side. But this would only be a momentary manoeuvre.

Like life, these roads also take many unpredictable curves!


The horror of his mistake hit him only when he was actually making the curve. What he thought was a C-curve had turned out to be a U-bend! Instead of a 90-degree turn, he had to make a 180-degree turn but he was going too fast. The car would inevitably plunge into the gorge!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Pangum Langhayate Girim - Bejoy Misra's life experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 2

Heads in forest but hands in society

Bhagawan Baba never advocates giving up one’s duties to pursue a spiritual life. In fact, on several occasions, Swami has strongly reprimanded those that compartmentalise aspects of life as ‘worldly’ and ‘spiritual’. The life-experience of Prof. H.J.Bhagia is a case to point. ‘Hands in society, heads in the forest’ is the motto that Swami advocates. That is one of the reasons why everyone is attracted to Him - everybody is given an equal opportunity to pursue a spiritual life irrespective of vocation or status or any other difference.

Bejoy’s perspective of a ‘spiritual life’ had transformed without his knowledge. He now knew that it was no longer essential to ‘sacrifice’ or ‘run away’ from the world to achieve the ultimate. Wiser, he dropped a postcard to his parents informing them in brief of his adventure and whereabouts. Day later, he was accosted by Prof. N. Kasturi who, among his several other duties in the ashram, also served as the postmaster.
“So you came here without even telling your parents?”
“ I have informed them now...”
“That I can see”, Kasturi replied, “your father has sent some money for you to travel back home.”

Two English teachers in a single frame - Bejoy with Prof.N.Kasturi.

Thus Bejoy’s needs after the ‘33 Rs’ were also taken care of, by the worldly father this time!

{This is the second part of the story. It will make better meaning if you read it after going through the first part at the link below: PART 1: Pangum Langhayate Girim - Bejoy Misra's life experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 1 }

He attended his first ever Shivarathri in Prasanthi Nilayam and it was unforgettable. In the morning, he witnessed the spectacle of the Vibhuti Abhishekam. He saw with wonder as Swami swirled His hand in an empty pot upturned over a silver idol of Shirdi Baba and heaps of vibhuti poured out from it. In the evening, he witnessed Swami manifest two lingams from His stomach through His mouth. He clearly saw flashes of light before each of the lingams emerged. It was with thrill and thrall that he boarded the train to take him back to Odisha. He vowed that he would return to Prasanthi Nilayam soon. Thus it was that Bejoy fulfilled Swami’s directive of plunging back into society while his mind and heart continued to remain in the Eden that Prasanthi Nilayam is.

When he reached home, Bejoy was met by a very relieved mother. As she caressed her eldest born, the mother inquired about his well being. She didn’t scold him or seem upset with him. She was simply happy to have him back. Bejoy, with his newfound understanding of spirituality, was also happy to be back home. He now plunged seriously into his duties as a student. He had carried Swami back with him, in his heart, to Odisha and so, everything he thought, spoke or did now was different. He had found a new zest in life. He completed his education and joined as a lecturer in the prized Bhubaneswar college. (After three years, he worked in the Puri college and three years later, at the Ravenshaw College.)

Hanuman lovingly advises Vibhishana.
To love God is to live for Him

When Hanuman was on the task of locating mother Sita in Lanka, he heard the name of his Lord Rama emanating from one of the houses. It was Vibhishana, the brother of the demon king Ravana but a staunch devotee of Rama. The two meet and Vibhishana confesses with tears in his eyes,
“Hanuman! How blessed you are to constantly think of Rama and also have Rama think of you. I also chant the name of Rama always but am not so blessed. Why is that so?”

Hanuman responds promptly,
“Oh noble one! You think of Rama no doubt. But do you do His work? You have love for Him but that love finds fulfillment only when you work for Him. Rama is searching for Sita who is in Lanka. You could have pleased Him better by helping in that mission rather than just chanting His name...”
Vibhishana understands his mistake. He immediately guides Hanuman to the Ashoka Vatika where Sita is being held captive.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Pangum Langhayate Girim - Bejoy Misra's life experience with Sri Sathya Sai - Part 1

Journey to God
Bejoy Kumar Misra moved hurriedly on the railway station in the city of Cuttack. A cloth bag which contained a few clothes, a book and a pen slung across his body as he made his way towards the train that would be taking him to Vijaywada in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. Excited anticipation filled him because he was about to make a journey like he had never done before. Considering his circumstances, it would also be a great adventure.

Does this look like a polio-struck 70-year old to you? Living
for God has its unique way of generating  youthfulness,
energy and enthusiasm!
For starters, Bejoy was on crutches. His left leg hung limp, afflicted with polio. Having been born in pre-independent India (1943) in the economically backward state of Odisha (formerly known as Orissa), Bejoy had been struck a cruel blow by the poliomyelitis virus. He had battled it as an infant with the help of many medicines. He won the war but lost a leg in battle. As far as his memory went, he had needed support to move around. However, that was not what made this impending journey challenging. Bejoy, with his crutches, felt as normal as normal could be. His shoulders and arms had grown stout and strong and he easily moved across barriers, climbed staircases and utilized the primitive public transport India offered in 1967. The challenge according to him was the distance that had to be travelled.  
He had not travelled anywhere in a train except between Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, a distance of just 25 kilometres. He would now be travelling 32 times that distance (805 kms) to Vijaywada and that would be just one half of his planned journey! He was doing this alone with just Rs 10 in his pocket. To make matters worse, nobody at home knew what he was up to! He had gotten out of his house saying that he would be visiting a friend.
Bejoy knew that the money he had wasn’t sufficient to even buy the ticket to Vijaywada. But then, hadn’t he decided to take the leap of faith? He literally jumped into a seat in the train and settled down, absolutely unaware of what lay ahead for him. Ticketless and filled with anticipation, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and visualised his plan. He would get off at Vijaywada and take a train to Guntur. At Guntur, he would change trains to reach Guntakal from where he would catch a train to Dharmavaram. From Dharmavaram, he would travel by road to reach Puttaparthi and, the goal of his journey, Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The whole journey would span more than 1300 kilometres - a distance that Bejoy possibly had not travelled even when he put together all his train journeys so far in life.
What had spurred a 23-year old physically challenged lad to seek a 40-year old ‘Baba’? What had motivated him to embark on a journey without any preparation? How did he get the courage? All answers lay in Bejoy’s early life.
A fire rages on
Even as a child, Bejoy took great interest in the spiritual side of life; possibly the result of several previous births of yearning. Being the eldest among 9 siblings at home (7 brothers and 2 sisters), he was naturally expected to be the most responsible one. However, things in the worldly domain hardly interested him. His father was a headmaster to hundreds of children at school and to nine children at home. He was a strict disciplinarian who practiced all that he preached. For him, duty was God; work was worship. Though he expressed no outward emotion towards his children, Bejoy knew that he was a solid support in life. Being an English teacher, he inspired love for that language in Bejoy as well. Seeing Bejoy’s aptitude for the English language, he hoped that he would prove his mettle by rising higher than the father had ever done in his life. But Bejoy was least interested in a career!
He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in Odia (his mother tongue) and great proficiency in English (his father’s tongue). But then, Bejoy, to add fuel to the scorching fire in his heart, devoured books on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Shivananda and Vivekananda. Gita was in his daily reading list. He hungered for more books that would satiate his innermost desire. Even among the English literature books, his favourites were those by authors and poets who had a deep spiritual side. But, however much he read, he wasn’t satisfied. Though he was always surrounded by siblings at home and friends in college, he felt lonely and had the least interest in anything.
That was when he read an article which would change his life forever! It was a piece by Dr. Sundar Rao in a 1966 edition of The Illustrated Weekly of India. (Simply known as ‘Weekly’ by its readership, this magazine which started publication in 1880 was considered to be an important English-language publication in India for more than a century. Many young students of English used it as a regular reading and guide for honing English language skills in vernacular India. It is now defunct, having closed down on November 13, 1993.)

Friday, 20 January 2017

The story of a blue baby and the Kali Yuga Avatar

Thondapu Arun Kumar relaxed as he steered the car onto the AH-43 and headed towards Puttaparthi. The traffic snarls at Bengaluru had been left behind and it would now be a smooth and speedy drive towards the abode of highest peace - Prasanthi Nilayam.


Arun always wanted to be at His Lotus feet. Swami proudly blesses him when
he secured a high All-India rank in the GATE CSIR examinations.
Arun was a regular at the abode of his Swami, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, ever since 1998 when he had enrolled for grade XI in the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School. In the 9 years that followed as a ‘Sai-Student’, he had completed his schooling, under-graduation, post-graduation and an MTech degree from the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. Even after embarking on his career path, he had made it a point to regularly visit Puttaparthi to pay obeisance and gratitude to his God and Master. But this visit in the September of 2015 had an added agenda. Arun had come to pray to Swami to bless him and his wife, Keerthi, with a child. That was the prayer he made as he knelt at the Sai Sannidhi, the sepulchre also called as the Mahasamadhi of Baba.


Trying to conceive a child is probably one of the most fertile events to make one realize the truth in the Bhagawad Gita's statement by Lord Krishna,
Karmanyavadhikaraste Maa Phaleshu Kadachana
(You have the rights over action alone and not over the fruits of action).
In the true sense, one can never ‘plan’ a baby. The baby happens when it is supposed to happen irrespective of the intensity of efforts (or its apparent lack) thereof. And so, every child, whether conceived naturally, in vitro or adopted, is in fact the gift of God!


For Arun and Keerthi, the wait after the prayer was very short. In October 2015 itself they got to know that Keerthi was carrying a baby and their joy knew no bounds. Arun was sure that the baby was Swami’s gift to them. Keerthi was convinced that it was God’s gift; she wasn’t sure about giving the credit entirely to her husband’s ‘Swami’ who she considered as a good human being. Arun was not bothered. He knew that just like the baby, faith in Swami also would happen when it was supposed to happen. As of now, the couple celebrated the gift of love that had been bestowed on them and began preparations for the delivery 40 weeks down the line. As the baby grew, so did their eagerness and joy.


But all that came to a sudden halt in the middle of January 2016 as the New Year heralded dreadful news.


Transposition of the Great Arteries


The routine ultrasound anomaly scan that Keerthi underwent in Hyderabad took an unusually long time to get completed. Arun noticed that the doctor was keenly observing one particular portion of the scan repeatedly. He sensed that something was not alright. His feelings turned out to be true.


“The foetus is exhibiting a transposition of the great arteries”, the doctor said, which is a defect due to the improper development of the fetal heart...We don’t know why this happens exactly... It is a random occurrence, by chance, but it needs urgent attention.”

Arun and Keerthi looked at each other in bewilderment. The doctor explained it as simply as possible.
“See, there are 4 chambers in the heart. The upper two chambers (auricles) receive blood while the lower two chambers (ventricles) pump it. Circulation of blood happens like this - Blood is pumped from the right ventricle to the lungs via the Pulmonary Artery. This blood gets oxygen and returns to the left auricle and falls into left ventricle. From there, it is pumped to the whole body via the Aorta. In your baby, the Aorta and Pulmonary Artery connections have interchanged. So the good oxygenated blood is circulating in a loop between the heart and lungs while the bad de-oxygenated blood is stuck in a separate loop between the heart and the rest of the body.”
TGA explained diagrammatically
She paused for a moment to allow the couple to digest all that.
“The baby will need life-support as soon as it is born because there is no way oxygen supply can reach the body. There is also a high risk of some abnormality or retardation in the child which we cannot predict now. Usually, in such cases, the parents decide the drop the baby.”


“No!” screamed Keerthi within herself. She could not even imagine aborting her child. For Arun also, dropping the baby was intuitively out of question.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

If you need me, you deserve me - Baba in Bahrain

“If it is okay with all of you, I wish to stay back. I’ll take care of little Gopal and stay at home...”
“But it is Patel, a close friend of Dwarkanadh. How can we not go?”
“You can go. I really don’t feel like coming”, Mrs. Pankajam Sundaram persisted, “do not force me to come along please.”
“It is okay if she wants to stay back”, her son in law, Dwarkanadh, interrupted, “My friend would not like to be the cause of discomfort for anyone. Plus, she may be eager to spend time with little Sai...”

The father in law looked at Sai Gopal and then turned to Pankajam,
“If he says so, then stay at home. But we may get late at night.”
“It is okay. Manama is a very safe city... and I don’t plan to step out of the house anyway”, Pankajam replied to her husband.

Mr Sundaram, Mrs Pankajam Sundaram with little Sai Gopal. 

Dwarkanadh knew that the main reason his mother in law didn’t want to come for dinner was because his friend was a “Sai devotee”. Pankajam was an orthodox and staunch follower of Vaishnavism and she considered Vishnu as the only supreme Godhead. She naturally didn’t want to be associated to a ‘person’ who was adored as an Avatar of Shiva! This was possibly the reason why she preferred to address her grandson as ‘Gopal’ leaving out the ‘Sai’ prefix.

Mr. N.R.Dwarkanadh, on the other hand, was a sincere devotee of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. In fact, a couple of years before in February 1981, he had founded the first Sai Samithi in Bahrain along with a few other devotees. When a son was born to him in February 1982, it was natural that the parents christened him with the prefix ‘Sai’. The doting grandparents, Dwarkanadh’s in-laws, had travelled from the Indian capital New Delhi to Manama to attend the boy’s first birthday. The father in law had taken to Swami the way a fish takes to water. But Pankajam had her reservations against dining at a Sai devotee’s place!

Thus it was on the evening of 17th of March, 1983, Dwarkanadh, his wife and his father in law left for the friend’s place at about 7:30 pm. Pankajam and the year-old Sai Gopal stayed back at home.

Unexpected visitor

Grandmother and grandchild spent a couple of happy hours in each other's company. Past dinnertime, the child seemed to get hungry. Pankajam fetched the feeding bottle and started giving milk to her grandson. Gopal contentedly settled with the bottle in his cradle, suckling at it with gusto. That was when there was a knock on the door.

Pankajam ignored it at first. She didn’t know anyone in Bahrain and so, the house could practically be considered locked as far as any visitor was concerned. However, the visitor was quite persistent with the knocking. Pankajam thought that it was her son in law’s cousin and his wife who were staying next door. They might have come to check on her to see that she was fine. The knocking continued and finally, Pankajam rose from the chair at the dining table. She walked to the door. She unlocked the door and opened it. Instantly, she realized that she had been totally wrong in her guess of who it might be. Her face turned pale and she instinctively moved to slam the door shut. So fast was her reaction that she hurt her hand in the process.
                                                                  *************

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The best gift a parent can seek for a child - Bhakti (devotion)

December 15, 2015


The day turned out to be a landmark one in this lifetime of mine. Poetically speaking, it was the day when a soul in the heavens above decided that Pooja (my wife) and I would be the appropriate beings as its parents in its earthly sojourn. Prosaically speaking, it was the day when I became father to a baby girl. But however prosaically you may state that, the experience is always poetic! I felt a thrill like never before and my first sounds were similar to the ones that the baby made -
“Oooooooo...Awwwwwwww”.
The innocence, detachment and purity with which the baby seemed to look at everyone around reminded me so strongly of my dear Swami.  So, the first thing I felt like doing, even before carrying the baby or cuddling her, was to gently touch the lotus feet. Ah! How soft they were and so similar to Swami’s. It was indescribable divine joy.

The baby is the easiest and closest that anyone can come to experiencing the Divine. With a baby, you become like a baby!


As parents, you want to give your child the best things in life. But what is the best thing in life? Both Pooja and I felt that the greatest gift we had received from our parents (and grandparents too in Pooja’s case) was ‘Love For God’. Having love for Swami is the greatest treasure, a bounteous blessing and the most intelligent investment that a parent can gift a child. And so, ever since we had come to know about the baby, all of us at home had the same prayer,
“Swami, let this child be one that will love you with all it’s heart...”


What’s in a name? Everything


Even as the baby grew from a single cell into an embryo, we began discussions on the choice of a name. The name is a very important part of life. It will possibly be the most-heard word for the being and therefore, it is vital that it be something inspirational and aspirational. No wonder that all societies in the world spend considerable time and effort in naming a new-born.


Our plan was to make a list of boy and girl names and then choose the most appealing one. Though we started like that, somewhere along the line the plan got changed into me naming the baby if it was a girl and Pooja naming it if it was a boy. Thus I began focusing on girl names. My pick was “Vibhuti”. Having sought vibhuti, the holy ash from Swami all my student life, I felt it was a perfect name because, more than anything else, it symbolised Swami’s prasadam (a gift blessed by God).


I had this feeling that Pooja was carrying a boy. That is when I discovered that ‘Vibhuti’ is a unisex name! Irrespective of the gender of the baby, ‘Vibhuti’ could be used. One day, I asked Pooja,
“What do you think about the name ‘Vibhuti’?”
She was silent.
“You like it? Or you don’t like it?”
“See, Vibhuti is a unisex name...”
“Exactly my point! If we agree on it, then we needn’t search further...”


She wasn’t in conformity. She wanted a female name for a girl or a male name for a boy. Unisex names didn’t appeal to her.
“We have decided na that if its a girl it's your choice and it's my choice if it's a boy?”
I agreed though I was feeling defeated because of my gut feeling that we were going to have a boy. In that case, Pooja would win the naming rights. Pooja was smiling with a gleam of victory. Intuitively, she also felt that she was carrying a boy and knew that she had already won in the ‘naming choice’.