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.

Sai Baba – Avatar & Human Being

Dear loving Swami was known by devotees the world over for the multitude of miracles that he performed during his 85 years in physical form; miracles such as raising people from the dead (even when the corpse had started to rot), control over the elements and the ability to appear in a multitude of places simultaneously, to name but a few.  But what I personally found most heart warming about Baba was his human side.  Maybe not quite as spectacular in the eyes of the average devotee, but he had this way of showing his human-ness in the most simplistic of ways; ways that really touched the heart.   He always used to say that we should never try to comprehend him because he was quite simply beyond comprehension.  But he also used to say that the reason he walked among us, breathed the same air and ate and spoke just like any other normal human being was so we could relate to him.  So, I suppose it’s for this reason that there was also something incredibly human about Baba.

The late professor Gokak who was very close to Swami for a number of years recalled the time when he accompanied Baba on a trip.  The professor spoke of how Baba had forgotten his razor, saying “so I just gave him mine”.  He also spoke of how easy it was to forget just who Baba really was because sometimes “we would laugh and joke together and in those moments he was simply my friend.”  But one of the most amusing stories I ever heard was when Swami was much younger and he took a party to the Himalayas.  He played snowballs with the group and also enjoyed himself on a sledge.   But during the same trip he visited a cave-dwelling sage and gave him the ultimate blessing by showing him his cosmic form.

I was once blessed with experiencing Swami’s human-ness first hand whilst sitting in darshan during my first trip to Prasanthi Nilayam.  I’d managed to get myself a prime spot directly opposite where Swami used to make his entrance; I couldn’t believe my luck, and what happened next was absolutely amazing.

Sitting just along from me, to my right, was a man.  Behind him was a younger man holding a child.  She was a beautiful little girl and they were obviously all connected.  At one point the younger man passed the little girl to the man in front and he had her on his lap fanning her.  Immediately two Seva Dals approached and told the man that the child would have to be passed back.  This made the Seva Dals look particularly mean, but I didn’t realise it at the time that children were not allowed in the front row.  Apparently there had been various incidents over the years and eventually the ruling was made that children were no longer allowed to sit in the front row.  The man protested long and hard but in the end he had to relent and pass the child back to the younger man.  I also felt for the Seva Dals because on the whole they do a fantastic job, they are all volunteers and it was not the fault of the two Seva Dals in question.  The beautiful thing about this though, is that I was one of only a handful of people who actually saw this story unfold in its entirety, and I feel privileged that Swami engineered this so that I could witness it.

As Baba approached one of the men gave the little girl a letter and they stood her up so that Baba could see.  He has a way of letting his attendants know when to stop and when to start and which direction to wheel him in etc.  The child held the letter out to Baba and he halted and motioned for her to come forward.  He took the letter and she bent down and touched his feet.  He then blessed her and a cheeky grin broke out on his face.  As it did so a huge cheer went up and the section of the crowd that had seen this wonderful event in detail applauded.

It was Swami’s way of letting us know that he knew what had happened with regard to the child not being allowed to sit in the front row; and there is simply no way that he could have seen the earlier incident as he was still in his quarters at the time.  The face of the child’s father was an absolute picture and it was a truly wonderful gesture by Baba.  The unfortunate thing is that because the hall was so packed only those near the front were a party to this amazing event, and only a handful saw the whole event from start to finish.  I am truly privileged to be one of that handful.

Baba must have been about ten feet or so away from me when he called the child forward.  It was fantastic for me seeing Swami face on, and what I found striking was that as he approached he looked absolutely beautiful.  I never thought I would ever describe a man as being beautiful, but Baba was not of this earth.  He looked so tiny in his wheelchair but the power he gave off was absolutely awesome.

It’s now seven months since dear Swami discarded his physical form, and it would be ridiculous to say that his form is not missed by devotees everywhere.  But everyone I speak to says the same thing; since Swami left his body it seems as though he is even more Omnipresent than ever.  His love seems to be even more prominent than it was; if that is at all possible.  I, for example, have lost count of the times since April 24 that he has made his presence felt within my heart and my eyes have filled with tears of joy.  There’s definately something bubbling under, and I can’t wait for it to surface.



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!

Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

Another thing that I wrote about in my book, Astral Travelling, The Avatar and Me, was my disgust at well-heeled Westerners in Puttaparthi lavishly dressed in Indian robes whilst tinkering with their expensive gadgets in the “Hanuman Hill Rock Cafe” (no hills and no rocks in this establishment by the way).  But Baba had many ways of gently chiding me, as a loving Mother would a child, and showing me that he really did treat ALL in exactly the same way.  There was a number of occasions during my first visit in October 2009 when Swami brought this particular personal prejudice to my attention.  My thinking was, that considering the unbelievable poverty in India, if rich Westerners wanted to go to Puttaparthi and pretend to be Indian for a few weeks, then they should have lived in mud huts during their stay and deprived themselves of food.  In my book I told of one such man, Tony,  whom I wrongly presumed to be Italian.  Tony turned out to be from Hertfordshire in the UK, not far from where I was born.  But the purpose of this post is to illustrate how Baba gives us constant reminders of the faults that we ourselves need to work on and overcome, and how he does this with the most impeccable timing.

I had seen another man on the ashram (who also looked Italian), he was quite a large man, dressed in expensive looking robes.  One day he was wearing a blue Indian style robe and trousers, and even had cuff links on the sleeves.  I noticed this and the demon in me rose up as I pondered why someone would feel the need to dress in such a way in the house of God.  When my stay came to an end I brought some amazing memories back home to the UK with me, and for some reason the image of this man in his expensive looking robes stayed with me too.  It wasn’t long before I found out why.

In February 2010 I was blessed to receive the call again and made my second visit to Prashanthi Nilayam.  To my amazement I noticed that many of the faces I had seen around the ashram during my first visit were still there.  Although you are only actually allowed to stay on the ashram for a limited period of time, these people were obviously staying in the village in private accommodation.  I even bumped into Goran, a Croatian man who I shared a room with during my first visit.  Lo and behold I also caught glimpses of the large Italian looking man (still wearing expensive looking robes) on a number of occasions.

Now at this time Baba’s health was not what it used to be and he no longer glided along amongst the masses during darshan.  It had got to the point where interviews were becoming more and more rare and Swami would not come out as often as he used to.  During morning darshan for instance, Swami would very seldom make an appearance.  So I was utterly amazed when I was sitting in darshan one day towards the end of my stay……. who did I see making his way towards the interview room in the mandir?  Correct!  It was the large Italian looking man, looking resplendent in his finest robes.  Swami had choreographed proceedings so that I was sitting in exactly the right place at the right time to be able to observe this.  Showing me once and for all that God has no prejudice, no judgement and embraces all of his children with the same limitless unconditional love.

In spite of Swami’s noble efforts I still haven’t quite mastered the lesson of not judging a book by its cover.  If I was still at school my report would say “must do better”!

God Goes Home

Easter Sunday 24 April 2011 started off as a normal day.  I was in no hurry to get out of bed, eventually doing so at around 09:20. Whilst having my first cup of tea of the day I went about my morning routine of going online and posting my thought for the day on Facebook and checking other online stuff. I went into one of my email addresses and there was one solitary email, from my friend V in South Africa. It was very short and to the point; it said quite simply “Swami has left”. I was quite numb at first. My beloved Swami, Sri Sathya Sai Baba had left his physical body. There had been signs for some time that Baba was getting ready to go, and in recent weeks it became increasingly apparent that devotees were going to have to accept that this was the case.  It was still hard to believe though; you don’t expect Swami to go, simply because he has always been there.  For a number of hours I cried intermittently; not out of grief, for I know there is no such thing as death, but for the sheer love of Baba and the realisation that he gave so much to us, yet took nothing for himself. His love was, and still is, boundless and I am truly blessed to have been touched by Baba’s love on many, many occasions.

I count my blessings that I received the call to go to Baba’s ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam (abode of the highest peace), on two occasions in the 18 months preceding his physical departure.  It was during my second visit in February 2010 that I got my first hint that “Divine Mother Sai” may be preparing to leave.  I was chatting to an American guy who had an apartment in Puttaparthi, where the ashram is situated. He was saying how Swami’s physical health had been going rapidly downhill and that he had made an unprecedented gesture.  Baba had made an announcement formally inviting devotees from all over the world to attend the ashram during 2010, on a pilgrimage basis.  My friend told me that this had never been done before in all the years that Baba had been resident at Prasanthi (since the 1940’s).  My friend went on to say that he felt Baba was getting ready to leave his body and this was his parting gesture of love to devotees worldwide.  Because of the sheer volume of people the pilgrimage was organised with the utmost precision and only so many countries at a time could attend, for periods of ten days only.  Of course, this only applied to the organised pilgrimages; anyone can go to Prasanthi as long as they receive the inner calling  “not even 20,000 horses can bring you here if you are not called”  Baba

At the time I remember thinking that this was not to be taken seriously, and I politely humoured my American friend.  Little did I know how right he was.  Now as I sit here and muse about this strange day it hasn’t quite sunk in that Sri Sathya Sai Baba has left his physical body.  Probably because I’ve had so many inner experiences with Baba…… and a physical body has never been essential to our relationship in the past…. so why should it be now?  He always touched me with his love across time and space; so often my eyes welled up with tears of joy as he enveloped me in his loving light.  On one occasion he even blessed me with an astral experience by lifting me from my physical body and carrying me off into the ether.

I suppose that, at some stage, even God has to go home…..but I don’t expect it to change my relationship with him.

Jai Sai Ram