Swami Moves In Mysterious Ways – Part Two


For those who missed Part One of this article please click on the link below.

Swami Moves In Mysterious Ways – Part One http://ow.ly/yFqc3

I did not realise when I started writing this post that it would be as long, so it is going to have to be in three parts and not two. Sai Ram

Day One

528005_468829299795099_657908821_nThe taxi driver directed me to the appropriate block and then off he went on his way. A rather stern and extremely efficient seva dal booked me in, and before I could blink, a coolie grabbed my bag and proceeded to lead me to my “hotel”. When I arrived at block DD2 I could not believe my eyes. It was dormitory accommodation at its most basic! Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think for one minute that it was beneath me, it’s just that I thought I’d left dormitories behind when I left the army all those years ago. The beds were the single metal-framed type and the mattresses had been used by countless devotees over the months and years; the communal facilities were down at the far end.

A rather kindly seva dal must have sensed I was feeling disorientated and confused and he helped me find a decent mattress. Another devotee gave me a spare mosquito net, so all I needed was a shower and some suitable clothing. It was such a relief to get my smelly jeans off and get in the shower. I changed into a pair of lounge pants I’d brought with me and some flip-flops and decided to go and familiarise myself with the ashram and purchase some appropriate clothing. The only problem was that the lounge pants were too big for me and they had no pockets and by the time I got to the shop I realised that it was only open at certain times and I’d missed out; I would have to carry on as I was until the next day.

I couldn’t believe how busy the ashram was; I was getting jostled everywhere I went. It seemed that every corner I turned I was getting pushed and shoved; it was like being in the crowd at a football match. I found this quite intimidating, especially with the lack of sleep; yes, it was turning out to be quite an experience. All of a sudden I was thousands of miles from home and my life seemed to have been turned completely on its head; my comfort zone had been exchanged for searing heat, pushing and shoving, no sleep, confusion, more heat, more pushing and shoving; and I was now feeling even more disorientated and vulnerable. What I also found disturbing was the massive police and military presence on the ashram. After all, was this not The Abode of The Highest Peace? What was with all the machine guns and rifles? I was getting more confused by the minute.

At some stage I wandered past the South Indian canteen, and thinking that it was about time I ate something, I purchased some food coupons from the nearby kiosk and ventured in. I couldn’t believe how cheap the food was; just very simple vegetarian food and it tasted wonderful. I then wandered out again to face another buffeting from the hoards. By this time I’d realised that my Western flip-flops were not suitable for trudging about in all day and I was now limping from all the blisters on the bottom of my feet. One good thing was that I had established where darshan was to take place and at the appropriate time I hobbled over to the Sai Kulwant Hall in the hope that I might make make some sense of all the confusion.

At this early stage I had not been educated in the practice of laying a cushion down after morning darshan in order to reserve a place in the line for evening darshan; all that was to come. Instead I hobbled up to the entrance and was amazed to find that I had to undergo a body search before being allowed in. Now I REALLY was struggling to take it all in. There was already thousands of people seated in the hall and I made my way to a spot that gave me a good view of the mandir. This bit was quite strange because on one hand I felt like a little boy lost, my feet were killing me from the blisters, and being a big softy Westerner, I didn’t get on with having to sit for ages on a hard concrete floor either; to say I was uncomfortable was an understatement. But on the other hand, the Vedic chanting was beautiful; I’d never heard it before, and then all of a sudden it happened. I felt a pulling sensation from within my chest as though someone was actually reaching inside me and pulling on my heart. Then my eyes welled up with tears of joy. I remember thinking to myself, “it must be Swami, Swami must be coming”.

A few moments later, sure enough, I saw his tiny frame appear in the distance as he was wheeled into the hall. This was my first ever sight of the Avatar and I had the most incredible feeling of love come over me; a feeling that I’d never experienced before. I was quite a distance away from Baba, but I could see him clearly and he even seemed to position himself on the mandir in such a way that I had clear sight of him. I knew that he knew I was there and I knew that he did this especially for me. I just wished that I could have made sense of all the other stuff. When darshan was over I struggled to my feet and hobbled towards the exit. As I did so, one of the many resident pigeons in Sai Kulwant Hall emptied the contents of its bowels all over my arm. “Just about sums up my day”, I thought, as I limped on my way.

The other devotees in my vicinity in DD2 were very helpful; they understood what I was experiencing, but there was a lesson to be learned here. I had been thinking that the ashram should have been called “The Abode Of The Biggest Hassle You Ever Experienced In Your Life”, and not “The Abode Of The Highest Peace”. However, in the bed next to me was an oriental man. He never spoke to anybody, although if you spoke to him he would answer but would not engage in conversation. I couldn’t help but observe his behaviour. All he did was read his spiritual texts, meditate and sleep. He would kneel on the floor and use his bed as a table and read his book of scripture, whatever book it was. He always seemed at peace regardless. That first night in the dormitory was a nightmare for me; I still never slept a wink, so how did HE do it?

My oriental friend had a pre-bedtime meditation and immediately fell asleep. It was as though I was being told that my “Abode Of The Highest Peace” was wherever I made it; and my friend certainly was at peace. I realised afterwards that Swami had engineered the whole thing and that I was being shown that it is possible to find peace wherever you are, if you are spiritually awakened enough to transcend the “nonsense” of the material world. At the time I could not understand how that man managed to find so much peace; the noise in the dormitory at night was unbelievable. There was people coughing and snoring, and getting up to use the facilities. The door into the communal toilets was on a spring, and every time someone got up to use the amenities you heard an almighty BANG as the spring door slammed shut. I tossed and turned all night, my mind dancing around all over the place and playing all kinds of tricks on me. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever sleep again as the first devotees started to get up at around 03:30. The oriental man was one of them. He awoke and immediately had a meditation before getting on with his day.

I did not think that I could sink any lower, but Swami had other ideas, and in the third and final part of this story I will tell you all about it.

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The Divine Teaser Part Two


In part two of The Divine Teaser I would like to share with you a little story that relates to my second visit to Prasanthi Nilayam, in February 2010.  As in part one, this event happened on my last day and it is also a prime example of Sai humour.

I went with a companion on my second visit, my then girlfriend, Ciara.  We decided to stay the first night in a good hotel and then see about accommodation on the ashram or find a simple apartment.  A significant thing also was that when we planned our trip we did not realise that it would coincide with Maha Shivaratri; one of the busiest festival times of the year.  The ashram had been unbelievably busy during my first visit, which coincided with Diwali and Gujarati New Year, but this time the volume of people was just unreal.  Because Ciara had a stomach condition, that meant she was in a great deal of pain for most of our stay, we ended up just staying in a very basic apartment for the duration.  Once the festival was under way we didn’t have much choice anyway because it would have been nigh-on impossible to find an alternative, what with the sheer numbers of people in the village.  I’d known before we set off that this trip was about her and not me.  I knew in my heart that Swami was calling Ciara; I also knew that he was aware of her stomach pains and that the harsh conditions of the ashram would have been too much for her to cope with.

Our apartment was down a side street but opposite a shop that sold T-shirts.  The motifs on the T-shirts were machined on the premises and the noise from the sewing machine was deafening.  As a result we did not sleep that well during the whole of our stay, but we kind of got used to it as the days passed.

Because of the volume of people in Puttaparthi (and on the ashram itself), I didn’t even bother to go through the business of laying my cushion down early in the hope of getting a place in the first line; I was just content to sit anywhere in Sai Kulwant Hall, and quite often I just sat at the back.  However, by the time we reached the last day of our stay Shivaratri was over, the crowds subsided and I decided that I was going to have one last go at getting as close as I could to Sri Sathya Sai Baba.  I knew that it would not only be my last darshan of the trip, but my last darshan ever, because Swami had already let me know that I would not be returning to Puttaparthi.  Baba has a way of letting you know things on an inner level, in the same way that he calls the millions and millions of devotees to the ashram; it’s just something that you know; words and physical presence are not necessary.

So, come mid-morning I lay my cushion down in the line to reserve my place and then went off about my business.  Early-ish afternoon I returned and took my place with my cushion along with the other hopefuls, and waited for the comedy capers to begin.  For the benefit of anyone reading this who has never been to Prasanthi Nilayam for the darshan of Sri Sathya Sai Baba I shall briefly explain the process of “the lines”.  Once morning darshan has finished you are allowed to go and place your cushion down in a designated area in order to reserve your place in the queue for evening darshan.  Once your cushion has been placed you can disappear until mid afternoon (but in the meantime hope that nobody steals your cushion and/or your place in the queue).  Once the first line of cushions stretches back up the hill until it can’t go any further, another queue is formed next to it.  At around 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. the queues are moved down alongside Sai Kulwant Hall.  This is where the fun begins because you get people who have not been queueing trying to sneak in and this can develop into pushing and shoving.  The two lines are then formed into four lines alongside the hall.  At some point the four people at the head of each line are invited to draw a token out of a bag, and whichever line draws token number one gets to go into the hall first, thus getting the chance to sit right at the front and get close to Baba.  Running is supposed to be strictly forbidden in such a sacred place, but as soon as people get inside they go tearing down to the front as though their lives depend on it.

I couldn’t believe my luck when the line I was in drew token number one.  Now before I go any further I will just say this.  Anyone who has had experience of Swami will know that he quite often plays Divine games (leelas), not only that, he sometimes gives us our own personal leela.  So, there I was in the line that drew token number one; things just couldn’t get any better, I was going to see my loving Lord’s Divine form one more time before leaving.  I got into the hall and sure enough people started running towards the front.  I tried my hardest to be disciplined but the trouble is, because of the runners, even though you may be in line one, if everyone runs past you and takes up all the spaces on the front row, then you wont get your prime spot.  So, seeing what was happening I convinced myself that Swami wouldn’t mind and I broke out into a trot.  However, because of other people’s selfishness I did not get my place in the front row.  But I still got a great position in row two directly opposite where Baba comes out.  There was two people sitting in front of me but I was sitting directly in the middle of their two sets of shoulders so I had a really good view; I was very excited and thanked Swami for getting me this spot.  As I have mentioned in previous posts it had got to the stage where Baba very rarely came out for morning darshan anymore, but you could bet your shirt on him coming out for evening darshan.

So I sat in my prime position, the Vedas were chanted and the bhajans were sung.  The time was getting on, so “anytime now” I thought to myself; I would see that orange robe in the distance and my heart would explode with love and my eyes would fill with tears of joy.  Then I would watch in anticipation as Baba came closer and closer to where I was sitting and I would get a really good glimpse of him.  “You never know”, I thought, “I might even get that all elusive eye contact.”  The bhajans went on and on, “yes, anytime now”, I thought again; and on and on they went.  Then I noticed something that I must admit, I found rather amusing.  There was an older Indian man sitting near me who kept looking around as though he was trying to attract the attention of anyone who would entertain him.  As he looked around with a very indignant look on his face he kept pointing at his watch, as if to say “what time does he call this”.  Then he would point and gesticulate with his hands as if miming “just who does he think he is, keeping us waiting like this”.  Then to my amazement ararthi* was called and the man got up and walked off in a huff.  The realization then dawned on me that Baba was having a bit of amusement in the way that only Baba can.

Every now and then Swami used to remind us that we were becoming far too attached to his physical form, and this was one such occasion.  I also felt that this was his way of telling me that I shouldn’t take things for granted.  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that my dear Swami never came out, knowing that I wouldn’t see his physical form again, but I also saw the funny side and had a good old chuckle to myself.  In truth the whole thing was just one of Swami’s leelas.  There I was running (I’m ashamed to admit it) in Sai Kulwant Hall because I was scared of losing my place in the front row, but the reality is that we only ever sit where Swami puts us.  We all think that we are in control but all the time the Divine puppet master is having his play.  I have no room for complaint anyway because dear Baba had already blessed us beyond our wildest dreams before this incident occurred, and that will be the subject of a future blog post.

As long as I remain on this Earth I will never forget the sight of that man pointing at his watch and complaining that Sri Sathya Sai Baba was keeping us waiting; absolutely priceless.

*Arathi, aarthi or aarti (from the Sanskrit term Aaraatrik) is the ritual performed at the end of every darshan, in which the flame from wicks soaked in camphor is offered to the Divine. Aartis also refers to the song which is sung as darshan comes to a close.

The Divine Teaser


There were times when dear loving Swami could be such a teaser, and I’m going to share two of my own personal experiences with you here.

The first one took place on the last day of my first visit to Prasanthi Nilayam back in October 2009.  It had been quite an eventful first visit, experiencing life on the ashram and Baba’s leelas, and I’d decided that on the last night I was going to treat myself to a comfortable hotel room.  Even the most expensive hotels in Puttaparthi are very cheap by UK standards so I booked myself into the Sai Towers Hotel, just opposite one of the main gates to the ashram.  The good thing was that it was a 24 hour reservation, meaning that because I arrived at around 7.00 p.m. I had the room until 7:00 p.m. the next day.  Also, for the previous two or three days there had been rumours circulating that Swami would be leaving the ashram to inaugurate a new ashram in Pune.  Where Swami is concerned you can never pay much attention to any rumours that may be flying around, however, this is one rumour that turned out to be true.  On the final day of my visit Baba was indeed off to Pune.

Even though my room was very comfortable I did not sleep that well and I arose quite early.  At some stage I heard chanting coming from the ashram.  I didn’t think anything of it at first but then I realised that it was only about 07:00 a.m. and the Vedic chanting on the ashram does not usually start until 08:00 a.m.  In my naive innocence I presumed that there was an earlier than normal darshan because Baba was going away for a few days.  This was not the case however and I can only presume that the chanting was to honour “God in human form” and to see him on his way.  For some reason I decided to head downstairs.  I say “for some reason” because there was no logical reason for me doing so.  It was still early and I didn’t feel like breakfast at that precise moment, but nonetheless I found myself heading down the stairs.

When I reached the ground floor I noticed that there was people lining the street.  For a moment I wondered what was going on; and then the realisation hit me.  I ventured outside to a hive of activity, and within a few moments of me being out there, Baba’s car swung out of the gate and turned to head right past me.  I couldn’t believe it, my loving Lord engineered my own personal “car darshan” for me on my last morning in Puttaparthi.  As the car went past with Swami’s tiny figure in the back seat I was screaming and pleading in my head for him to make eye contact with me.  But did he do it?  No, of course not; he teased and tantalized me with a view of his Divine human form, he engineered my own personal darshan with precision timing, but he wasn’t going to make eye contact with me.  Ever the Divine teaser, it was as though Baba handed me a bag of sweets, let me eat some and then took them back before I could get to my favourites.  But what he did do was suffuse my heart with his love, and what a feeling it was; my heart just melted.  I felt so blessed that Swami did that for me, and to this day, when I look back on that event I always have a little chuckle to myself at how he manages to tease us until we are on the verge of bursting.  I’m sure there are millions of devotees all over the world who have similar stories to tell.

Watch this space for part two.

It’s All A Matter Of Perspective


It’s an amazing thing, perspective; it’s all to do with how we perceive things as individuals.  One man’s success is another man’s failure and what may seem fantastic to one person may be run-of-the-mill to another.  I would like to share with you a personal experience that I believe illustrates this very aptly.

In October 2009 when I went to the ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam (Abode of the Highest Peace), of Sri Sathya Sai Baba for the first time, I met an Australian man named Dave.  ”Aussie Dave” as I called him, was just one of many wonderful characters that I encountered during my two-week stay.  I first spoke to Dave after darshan one evening.  I can’t remember the circumstances, but I do remember having seen him around the ashram and in darshan before then.  He was a big man, but when you spoke to him you realised he had a heart of gold.  After our encounter in the darshan hall I bumped into him a couple more times before he went back to Australia.  There was one particular conversation I had with him that I found both interesting and surprising.  I should point out here that whenever devotees of Baba cross paths it is always, without exception, because Baba has engineered it; and there is always a reason.

I was in awe of many of the people I spoke to during my stay, and Dave was no exception,  because Baba had only come into my life in 2001 and this was the first time I’d received the call.  Dave had been a devotee for many years and had experiences with Swami that I could only ever dream about.  He showed me a ring he was wearing that Baba had materialised for him; he also said that this was his eighth visit to Prasanthi (sometimes he brought his wife but on this occasion he’d travelled alone) and not only had he been granted interviews with Baba as part of a group, but he’d also had a personal interview as well.  I was green with envy, but not in a bad way; I was very happy for him that Swami had showered him with so much grace, but at the same time I was thinking ”I wish I’d had those experiences too”.  He also told me what I thought was quite an amusing story.

On the occasion in question he’d travelled to Prasanthi alone and was lucky enough to have been summoned with some other devotees for a group interview.  He told how Baba had been speaking to him and suddenly left and went into an adjoining room.  Dave said that Swami seemed to take an age before he came back and there had also been crashing sounds coming from the other room; as if filing cabinets were being opened and closed.  He went on to say that Baba suddenly appeared again, threw one of his robes at him and said ”here, give that to your wife”!

Anyway, I digress, back to perspective and the point of this article.  There I was in awe of this man’s experiences with my wonderful Swami, he’d visited the ashram eight times, had group and personal interviews, had a ring that Swami materialised for him and he also had one of Baba’s coveted robes back home in Australia.  It all made my experiences seem so trivial.  After all, apart from the astral experience I had with Baba in December 2006, my encounters with my loving Guru consisted mainly of visitations during dream state.  But, when I shared with Dave my humble exploits with the ”God Man” I was dumbfounded to hear him say ”I’ve never experienced anything like that”.  He was genuinely amazed when I shared my experiences with him.

I’ve always heard devotees say that Baba knows us all inside out and he only ever gives us exactly what we need for our long-term spiritual growth and well-being.  He also only connects with us in ways that we can best relate to him; and I would agree with that 100%.  I often think of that conversation I had with Aussie Dave and still try to get my head around why, a man who’d had such incredible first hand experiences with The Avatar of the age, would be so amazed at mine, which seemed so trivial compared to his.  Having said that, I remain the only person I know who has had an astral experience with Baba.

I know there was a special lesson for me contained within that conversation.  I know also that I am ever so grateful for the experiences that I’ve had with Sri Sathya Sai Baba, even if they don’t seem as spectacular as some other people’s.

But I suppose it’s all just a matter of perspective!