An interview with Al Drucker
David: I would like to begin by
asking you about your spiritual background. What were your spiritual
understandings before you came into contact with Sai Baba?
Al: I was brought up in a Jewish home
in pre-war Germany. As a little boy I was a very pious kid even though
my family was not particularly religious. It was really an opportunity
for me to get away from my family. At the time I felt overpowered by
all the women in my family. They all loved me and fluttered around me
so much that as a little kid I just couldn't take it. So the only way
that I could become free of all of that was to become so religiously
inclined that their needs wouldn't prevail over mine. I think that I
began studying the Torah when I was only three.
David: But was there any one factor
or incident in those early days that awakened your spiritual
consciousness, that started you on your spiritual quest in this life?
Al: Well it seems to me that my
interest in spiritual matters was always there. I have some
intimations of having been a Ramakrishna sannyasin in my last life. I
believe that I spent that life in France. I have some remembrances of
it. I also feel that I have spent many lifetimes in India, living in
caves in the Himalayas. In this life I did not pursue a spiritual path
until well into my adult years. After going to university I kind of
got lost in the world for a while. I joined a select group of
engineers and physicists who were responsible for the technical
management of the U.S. ballistic missile and nuclear weapons
programmes. However I soon got an inner message that working on these
weapons of mass destruction was not right for me and so, on a
spiritual impulse, I quit the programme very suddenly in the late
1960's and went to live at the Esalen Institute, a centre for growth
and transformation in Big Sur on the Pacific Coast, south of San
Francisco. The contrast from my previous lifestyle could not have been
more dramatic. I radically changed professions, to become in
succession a massage therapist, a Rolfer, an acupuncturist, a
homeopath, a gestalt therapist and, finally, a teacher of alternative
medicine. Now Esalen is just across the mountains from the Tassajara
Zen Mountain Centre, it is about fifteen miles as the crow flies, and
I used to hike across the mountains to meet a wonderful teacher,
Shunryu Suzuki-roshi. He was really a great saint and it was through
him that I became interested in Zen. I have also had a long time
interest in Taoist teachings, having spent some time in China as a
young man. So it seems to me that I have always been interested in
spiritual matters, but Spirit didn't really become the major focal
point in my life until my aeroplane experience, in which Swami saved
my life and thereafter led me to him in India.
David: The greatest obstacle that I
had to overcome in establishing a relationship with Sai Baba was the
concept of God incarnating on the Earth. To me God was always separate
from His creation and never incarnated in form on the Earth. When did
you accept this reality?
Al: Well, you see, even as a kid we
would sing a song in Yiddish about the time when the Messiah would
come on Earth and we would all be happy. I have always believed that
the Messiah was just around the corner and that the Messiah was God on
Earth. So I have always been waiting for him and rather than being
surprised that such a thing could actually happen, I was surprised
that it hadn't happened yet. So I didn't have that prejudice against
God being in form.
David: In the talk that you gave
yesterday, you related the story about meeting the SS colonel in the
railway carriage, as you tried to escape from persecution in Nazi
Germany. This impressive figure, dressed in the black uniform, must
have absolutely taken your breath away, and yet he talked to you about
the Bible and made that amazing statement, "There is no Moses to save
you this time".
Al: I was just a kid of nine and, of
course, I was terrified. I was frightened out of my wits when he came
into that train compartment. I lived in Cologne and I was travelling
across Germany to Poland and had stopped off in Berlin. In Berlin I
had some well-to-do relations and they had decided to put me into this
first class compartment, but unknown to me, Jews were not permitted to
be there. I had the compartment to myself until the train stopped some
twenty-five miles outside of Berlin and that was when this SS colonel
appeared. So I sat there, petrified, expecting to be arrested, but he
was charming He loosened his jacket and took off all of his imposing
paraphernalia - the cap with the skull emblem on it, the black leather
belt, the gun, the dagger, the leather gloves, the monocle and the big
black leather boots. He made himself comfortable and told me to sit
comfortably and not to be afraid of him. So, in a sense, he became an
ordinary guy for me. He talked to me about God and the Jews, quoting
extensively from the Old Testament. He warned me that the Holocaust
was coming and advised me to escape westwards not eastwards which, of
course, is what I eventually did.
David: You said that you felt that
the SS colonel was Sai Baba, that he manifested as that colonel to
warn you, in fact, to save your life. Are you really sure of that?
Al: It is very clear to me now that
the colonel was Swami. He simply didn't fit the SS character at all.
There was no way that man would have taken the chance in Nazi Germany
at that time of saying the things that he said to me, even if he felt
David: The SS colonel came out with
this amazing statement "There is no Moses to save you this time. You
will have to be your own Messiah." What do you think that Swami meant
when he said that? How do you view that message in the light of what
eventually happened to the Jews? What would be the purpose of the Jews
being subject to the Holocaust? Was it to prove to them that there is
Al: I wish I even had the beginning
of some answers for that. I have no idea, David. But two world wars in
two successive generations, which destroyed or uprooted hundreds of
millions of people, and then the development of atomic and hydrogen
weapons that promised to snuff out all of civilisation, and God knows
what other insane weapons of death are in the offing to destroy
Mankind, only proves what madness has come upon us in this Kali Yuga,
and how absolutely vital it was in this time of darkness for the
Avatar to come and rescue Mankind from itself. The genocide of the
Jews is just an outward symptom of the genocidal feelings of hatred
and mayhem inside all of us. Swami has come to correct that. As for
the Messiah, I once had the chance to ask Swami whether he was the
Messiah for which we had long been waiting. He answered "Not one
Messiah. You are all Messiahs. You have the power to save yourself and
to save others also." In other words, he will drive the chariot, he
will direct us from within, but it is our job to save ourselves and we
have been given the full power of God to transform the internal
enemies of greed, hatred and jealousy, etc. which are polluting our
hearts into the divine love that is Swami. For me, personally, Swami
gave me the chance to clear up most of my haunting memories of Nazi
Germany. It relates to the first time I had to leave India very
unexpectedly. Let me tell you the story.
In 1981, after I had made some
fifteen or so trips to Sai Baba, he directed me to come and live at
Prashanti Nilayam. So I went back to America and gave up everything. I
sold or gave away all of my possessions and I was back at the ashram
within a couple of months. At his direction I was to give up my U.S.
citizenship and become an Indian citizen. My life in America was to be
finished! So I started the process of Indian naturalisation and I
arranged that I would become an Indian citizen on my 60th birthday,
because that is a particularly auspicious day. I planned to go to
Bangalore that day to be sworn in and also, a few days later, to
deliver a paper at a conference of the heads of all the Indian
universities on the Awareness Programme, six courses unique to Swami's
University, which covered the whole range of human knowledge - the
humanities, the sciences, the arts, and the spiritual and religious
history of the world - which all undergraduate students were required
to take. I had had a hand in formulating the programme. Now at that
time Swami was in Whitefield.
So that morning I was sitting in my
room, working on my presentation, when a policeman knocked on the door
and informed me that I was under arrest! Well, you call imagine the
shock and disbelief that I felt. It seems that they had decided that I
was a CIA agent and would pose a threat to the country if I became a
citizen. The policeman had orders to take me to Anantapur. I insisted
that I had to go and see Swami first. Well, amazingly, I got to see
him. It's a wonderful story and I cannot tell it all now, but I got to
see Swami and he told me, despite my fervent objections, that, yes, I
was CIA, and it would be best if I left the country! Then he explained
that CIA really meant Constant Integrated Awareness, and that I should
call the headman in Anantapur. I called this officer and to my
astonishment he directly answered the phone, which is most remarkable
in India. When I told him that Bhagavan had advised me to leave India,
he gave me eight hours in which to leave the country. Now this is the
day, my 60th birthday, on which I am supposed to become an Indian
citizen and give up my U.S. citizenship and, in a moment, my life was
totally turned around! I didn't have any money, I didn't have a
ticket, I didn't have an exit visa yet, somehow, Swami miraculously
arranged for all of that and I ended up by flying to Germany, of all
places. That was as far as I could go at that time with the funds that
I had available. I stayed with some German Sai friends that I had met
at the ashram. Now the husband was in the Wehrmacht, the German army,
during the war and his wife was a leader of the girls' side of the
Hitler Youth movement. We spent an intense month together discussing
the war and clearing out all our old karma. It was totally finished
for us and we became very close friends. We put the whole war
experience to rest. In my talk yesterday I referred to the pure light
that shines in the eyes of the children in Swami's schools and I have
a clear sense that many of these kids are the reincarnated souls of
the beings that died in the gas ovens of Auchwitz, and that they are
now with Baba and so have forgiven all that was done to them in the
past! I am really clear in my own mind that even if Adolf Hitler were
sitting here in front of me now I would forgive him and see only the
wholeness and the completeness and the perfection of his being, and
not dwell on the horror of what he, in his madness, perpetrated on the
David: How long did it take you to
recognise Sai Baba's divinity. My path was a very slow one, requiring
many visits, with much doubting and testing. How was it for you?
Al: I loved Swami the first time that
I saw him. I just loved him. As I said yesterday, the very first time
that I saw Swami was in the Poornachandra Auditorium on the day of
Mahashivaratri. Just before he came out, I had this very powerful
deja-vu experience of being back in Nazi Germany. There were the
massed flags and the swastika symbols, which of course was the symbol
of Nazi Germany, the slogans and banners on the walls, similar to what
the Nazis used to do, and when Swami started speaking he was saying
the same things that Hitler said! Then I woke up and realised that
here was the ultimate of goodness that had come into consciousness,
the ultimate in the totality of the history of the world as it is
known in the West. There had not been a full avatar on the Earth since
Lord Krishna, over five thousand years ago. I recognised that I had
experienced both the ultimate of divine goodness and the ultimate of
evil in my life. They both used some of the same outer forms, they
both used some of the same expressions, they both used some of the
same symbols and slogans, and they both used similar mannerisms. In
the talk that Swami gave that day he said that it does us no good to
go around digging ten metre holes in a field in our search for water.
We can dig holes all over a field and still find nothing. He said that
we must dig one hole, but dig it deeply, in order to find pure clear
water. If we want to know the reality of this Sai Avatar, we must come
close to him and dig deeply. The intensity of that experience was so
powerful that it has remained with me ever since.
David: You've been so close to Swami,
do you think it is because of your actions in past lives or in this
Al: I really do not know. All I can
say is that there is nothing that I am aware of in this life that
would relate to that extraordinary privilege.
David: We both know of people, such
as yourself, who were very close to Swami and then have suddenly
fallen from grace and been banished from the ashram. I have this
feeling that it is safer not to get too close to Swami. It's almost
like getting too close to the fire and getting burned. What are your
feelings about this?
Al: When the devastating moment of
incineration comes it is almost always totally unexpected, like the
incident on my 60th birthday that I just spoke about. In some ways,
it's a lot like death. We think that death is something that happens
to everybody but us! Here is another story with an unexpected result.
One morning I got a message to report to the head office of the
ashram. Remember that at the time I was a lecturer in the Sathya Sai
Institute and, in fact. I was the only Westerner there. Swami also had
told me to do study circles for the residents in the ashram and for
the staff and students at the University. I also gave talks to the
Westerners who visited the ashram. So there were many opportunities
for me to slip up and to make a mistake, but in this particular
incident even the mistake was missing. I had done nothing wrong.
Anyway, I went down to the office, it was just before morning darshan,
and waited for the manager of the office to arrive. He was coming
straight from seeing Swami, since they have breakfast together. He
walked up to me and said, "Pack up your things and leave. You have to
be out of here by noon!" I said, "Out of here, what do you mean?" He
replied, "You are being told to go. You've got to go." Now this is
after I've been there three years. I asked, "What is this all about?"
but he replied, "I've been instructed not to tell you." So I returned
to my flat and said inwardly "Swami, what have I done? I don't
understand it. I have to leave and my whole life is here. This is
where all my things are." At that time I had an extensive library of
over five hundred books. I began packing and choosing a few favourite
books to take with me I picked up a book of Shankara's poems, opened
it and read 'Mother, how could you be so cruel to your only son, you're
my Mother and how can you not love your son? Somehow I knew that it
was no accident that I was looking at this poem. Just then a message
came for me to go and see Dr. Gokak, who at that time was the vice
chancellor of the University, and who was also my boss. He told me
that Swami was very unhappy with me and I had to leave. I said, "What
is this all about, Dr. Gokak?" He replied that he had been told not to
tell me, but that Swami was unhappy with something that I had said at
a public meeting. I returned to my flat and continued with my packing
when Professor Kasturi called for me. Now Kasturi and I were like
father and son. I spent much time with him. He said, "Drucker, you've
done it." I said, "What is it that I am supposed to have done?" He
replied "Swami says that you were cracking dirty jokes in your talk to
the foreigners" I said "That's just not possible, Kasturiji, that's
totally incorrect." Kasturi said that Swami had received a letter from
a German lady who had reported this fact to him. He also said that he
(Kasturi) had received a letter from the same German lady asking for
an introduction to me. I have no idea who this lady is. So I went off
for my last darshan and as I'm sitting there in darshan Swami comes up
to me and says "You are a Surpanakha." Now Surpanakha is the name of a
demon in the Ramayana. She is the sister of Ravana and when she
discovers Rama and Lakshmana she desires them so much that, in a
jealous rage, she tries to kill Sita. Lakshmana intervenes and with
his sword disfigures her, first cutting off her nose and then her ear.
She runs back to her brother Ravana in order to raise an army of
demons and so avenge herself. Ravana is amazed that she stayed around
long enough to have both a nose and an ear cut off, and he asks her
why she did not run away. She replies that they were both so beautiful
she couldn't take her eyes off them! So when Swami called me "Surpanakha"
and jokingly said that he was going to cut off my nose, I responded by
saying "0 Swami, you are so beautiful, I'll have to stay around until
you cut off my ear too!" Apparently, that was the right answer. Swami
told me to take padanamaskara. I kissed his feet and that was the end
of the incident. It was over, and I stayed at the ashram. But it was a
warning to me that at any moment I could be thrown out, with or
without good reason and, as you know, later on it did indeed happen to
me. I have always recognised that God can take anything that He likes
away from me. I have heard Swami talk of the three zeros, of reducing
a true devotee to nothing, of taking away their wealth, their health
and their name to prepare them for liberation. I am ready for that.
David: Obviously the fact that Swami
did eventually throw you out of the ashram must be for your highest
good, but what, do you think, was his reason for doing that? Do you
think that he is preparing you for liberation?
Al: I had always believed that the
meaning of the three zeros was that God can take any material thing
away from me, but that He could not take God away from me. I
worshipped Swami as God and here I was getting thrown out of the
ashram. So I felt that even God had now been taken away from me. I
felt totally devastated, without roots of any kind. I believed that
there was no existence left, but then I discovered something. There is
no way that God can be taken away from me. The form of God was no
longer in my eyes, that was all. Now that discovery was not
immediate. It took me about a year to get over the feelings that
something horrible had happened to me. Nevertheless, during this
period of time, I experienced many remarkable acts of grace, including
being in the interview room with Swami every day for some weeks. It
was a direct experience. It was not a dream. It was a state of
awakened consciousness. I was sitting there and Swami would be sitting
here and we were talking. It was no less real than the exchange that
we are having now. I realise now that Swami will never take himself
away from me.
David: Ann and I have always created
a separation between the forms that we call Sai and Super Sai. We love
to go and visit Sai, that is to say the physical form of Sai Baba, but
we also recognise that Super Sai, that is to say the omnipresent form
of God, is with us every moment of our lives and, indeed, is here
right now. It is Super Sai that is for us the God in which we trust
and in which we believe and with whom we have no conflict. It seems to
me that conflicts such as you have experienced only arise when you get
close to the form and have to relate to the form!
Al: Well, David, we have to be
willing to get close to Swami and even to risk being thrown out, but
even if that happens we will discover that nothing really has happened.
How can anything ever come between Swami and his devotees? He is pure
love and he yearns for all of us to come very close to him. One reason
Swami gives us vibhuti is to remind us that ash is the only thing that
survives in a fire. We have to be willing to do what it takes to be
consumed in his fire and to realise the truth of who we really are,
which cannot be affected by anything.
David: What has been your experience
of being nine years in the wilderness, of being removed from Sai Baba
for so long a time, after being so close to him?
Al: During the eight years I was at
the Ashram I did indeed feel very close to Swami. In the first years
Swami would speak to me every day. So I was treated like I was a very
special person. But what has come to me in these years of being in the
wilderness is sanity. I thought that I was special, but it is now very
dear to me that I am not special, none of us is special, and I don't
want to shock your readers when I say this, but even Swami is not
special. There is nothing special about anything in this world. Underneath
we are all exactly the same, one unchanging divine essence; on the
surface there is just the changing names and forms of maya, the veil
David: When you say Swami, you mean
the form of Swami?
Al: Yes, absolute truth does not have
a form. It cannot be seen with the eyes, nevertheless, some forms can
be used to point the way to the realisation of our true reality. Such
is the form of Swami, but we must go beyond that stage to the direct
experience of the formless divinity as the truth of our being.
David: Professor Kasturi was always
having a hard time with Swami, even though he was very close to Swami.
Swami sometimes did some harsh things to him, didn't he, to crush his
ego? Is this the price that you pay for being that close to him?
Al: No, I don't think that it's like
that; I don't think that it's a price you have to pay for being so
close to him. I think that it's the price you have to pay for having
chosen to be on the fast track to liberation. You have to pay that
price if your ego is to go. The sense of individuality has to go and
all that Swami is doing is to help you to realise that all forms of
individuality are a mistake. So I think that this sort of thing
happens to all people who have made the commitment to liberation, no
matter what. There is only one interest in my life and that is the
path to liberation, so anything which blocks that path has to be
removed, and quickly, because I am not prepared to wait for another
five lifetimes. Ann, in her talk yesterday, said that the Book of
Brighu astrologer had told you that you were going to incarnate again
with Prema Sai and live in his ashram for most of your next life and
would die at ninety-five. This, apparently, was confirmed to you at
Shivaratri when you did not see the lingam emerge. You have now
accepted this as a fact.
David: Yes. That is true.
Al: I think that's a terrible mistake.
Excuse me, David, but I have to tell you that that is very foolish.
Don't accept anything like that. Your mind has the power of God and
you can change destiny by changing your consciousness. You can, I know
that! You have the power to do this unless you have talked yourself
into wanting to be around for another one hundred and fifty years or
David: I have no desire to be here
again, even for a life with Prema Sai.
Al: Then don't accept it. Don't
accept it and Swami will not support that mistake. It really is a
mistake. He would not support it unless that is your wish. So make
that decision now and even if the three zeros and all that stuff
follows, so what? This world isn't worth anything anyway, so why
invest in it?
David: May I ask you a personal
question now? Was your decision to marry Yaani, the decision which
directly led to you being thrown out of the ashram, made from the
heart or from Swami?
Al: It was not from the heart, it was
clearly from Swami, although now it has become a thing of the heart.
You know, it's an interesting fact that that was the way of most
marriages until this century. Parents or preceptors usually arranged
marriages, because it was in the best interest of the individuals
concerned in their journey to God. The love, which was often very deep,
usually came afterwards. I would say that I'm a very reluctant husband.
I went through sixty years of life without ever having contemplated
marriage and just at the time when I am supposed to give up everything
I get married!
David: What game do you think Swami
is playing with you with regard to your marriage?
Al: Well this marriage has been my
principal sadhana for the past ten years and in retrospect I can say
that nothing else that I can think of has been as valuable as this
marriage in terms of personal growth and development. From a worldly
and a cultural sense we are totally opposite! There is a constant
opportunity for friction between us. We have Swami in common, as our
common love. Other than that we have few other common interests. What
a grand opportunity this presents for self-interest, for ego, to
expose itself and to be seen and set aside! It is something of a
challenge. Swami has presented us with a final challenge to enable us
to finish this silly game.
David: Life is a game, as Swami says,
and we must play it, but now that you are allowed back in Prashanti
Nilayam can you tell us about your more recent experiences?
Al: Well, my first impression after
nine years absence is that nothing has really changed. Everyone says
that the ashram has totally changed and, of course, from a physical
standpoint that is true, but I didn't pay too much attention to that.
I was just aware that Swami had not changed one iota in some
twenty-five years. He is the same beautiful being, he expresses the
same immeasurable kindness and concern; he emits that same
unfathomable unlimited love. There is that same awesomeness and magic
when he comes out to give darshan. He inspires us with the same
hopeful message of redemption. He coaxes us in the same way, to rise
above desire and temptation, to realise our incredible divine
inheritance. Swami is totally unchanged. He is still saying what he
said when he gave his first discourse, namely, my life is my message.
He is teaching us to follow his example of raising our thoughts to
heaven above and of using our bodies to serve mankind below. Now
recognise that we also haven't really changed. We go through these
histories, these life-stories, and we think that so much has happened
but, in fact, we are still as we have always been, even before we came
into this birth and even after the death of these bodies. We are
always whole and perfect and one with Sai Baba. We are love itself,
and that is why Swami has always addressed us as Premaswarupa, as
embodiments of pure divine love. This is now becoming my direct
experience. I can relate one experience that came up for me during the
Paduka festival last year at the ashram. They brought out this golden
chariot for Swami to ride in and out of nowhere all this judgement
came into my mind. Good heavens, I thought, Swami, what are you doing?
What have you got to do with this garish obscene thing, this huge
golden chariot? Would Jesus or Saint Francis ride in something like
that? I was very troubled by it, but at the same time, I was also
very much the witness of my trouble. Where did all of these feelings
come from? Why should I care what ever this chariot looks like? But
still I cared. So I had to quiet myself down. I just had to close my
eyes and shut it all out, become very silent and very quiet and, then,
when I opened my eyes, Swami was sitting in the chariot and this
incredible feeling of love gushed out of me. I started crying. I was
just overcome. It was as if I had put on these glasses of love and
everything was just pure love. Wherever I looked, at the people, at
the chariot, all I saw was pure love. It was a wonderful experience.
David: The chariot was a donation of
love, wasn't it, but Swami did point out that he had no need of it and
he did give it away, didn't he?
Al: I don't know and to tell you
frankly, I'm not particularly interested in the chariot. I mentioned
this incident to show how Swami takes something about which we have
made some negative judgement and turns it into an experience of love.
Swami tells the story of Jesus walking with his disciples on a road,
when they come upon the stinking decomposed carcass of a dead dog. The
disciples try to lead Jesus away from the gruesome sight, but Jesus
bends down very close to the remains and says, "Look at the beautiful
teeth of this dog. How much it must have been loved by its master." So
Jesus saw the one beautiful thing in that otherwise unpleasant sight.
That is Swami's message to us. Give up your judgements. Put on your
love glasses and see the face of divinity, in other words, see Swami's
unbounded love in whatever you see.
David: My last question, really, is
in the light of all your experience with Swami and the suffering that
you had to endure, what do you think is the purpose of life?
Al: Well, it depends what you mean by
life. You see, I believe that life is eternal. Life has no meaning
outside of truth, outside of oneness, outside of unity, and so the
purpose of these earthly lives is to awaken and to realise true life.
Life on this Earth is not life. This is death. To live in these bodies
and to grow old and to get sick and to suffer and to die, that is an
investment in death, that has nothing at all to do with life. Life is
when you are free, life is when you are the light and give that light
to everyone. Life is when you become an overflowing cup of pure love,
a cup that has to be constantly shared. That's life. If there ever was
a purpose for this human life, it is to drop all these insane ideas
about life on Earth and to return to true life. That is Swami's
mission as I see it.
Source: Ramala Centre Newsletter,
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