Sai Baba Sri Sathya Sai Baba

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Sri Sathya Sai Baba Articles

  God, Deities and you

In this article I wish to respond to a letter we have recently received from a devotee. It is all about deities and the God who is supposed to rule over them. The devotee’s problem is basically the following: It is said there is only one God. But there is also talk of deities, description that particular deities deal with particular issues/departments, that prayers for worldly needs do not necessarily reach God, etc. The writer wants to know if all this means that certain prayers of his to Swami get delivered to deities instead of to Swami, and that his request does not receive attention from Swami but rather from some lesser deity? What precisely is the protocol followed in the Upper World? Why can’t Swami personally handle these matters, and why does He need assistants? The devotee ends his letter with the query: “I have been under the impression Sai handles everything – and now this new found info complicates my understanding regarding prayers and their answers!”

This is an interesting letter. Many people have similar doubts, and in fact, long ago when I had not made an in-depth study of Swami’s teachings, I too struggled with all kinds of doubts of a similar nature. Let us examine our devotee’s difficulty in some detail. I would like to start by considering what the statement that there is only One God means. Swami makes this point even more explicitly. He says: “There is only God and nothing but God.” That shall be our starting point.

The first thing that logically follows from the above is that if there is only God and nothing but God then clearly there cannot be any deities! At this point, I can hear the listener say, “But listen, authorities greater than you have talked about deities. Are you telling me they all are fools?” Good point and I shall take that up next.

If we go back in history we would find that in pre-historic times, people in all communities without exception, were overawed by the forces of Nature. I mean, who wouldn’t be? The power of a typhoon is not to be sneered at. As Swami sometimes reminds us, “Has man made a fan that can blow wind more powerfully than a cyclone?” So, these ancients intuitively recognised that there was a power superior to them and started not only giving names to the deities they thought were responsible for these forces of Nature but also propitiating these “Spirits” as they often were referred to. In fact, they devised various ways to propitiate these deities. Thus, in this manner, the Greeks had a god for rain, a god for fire, and so on; so did the ancient Hindus. Indeed, tribes everywhere from Africa to America did the same. I mean there was hardly any place where they did not worship deities representing the forces of Nature in ancient times. The names might have been different and the procedures of worship might have varied, but all without exception did acknowledge in their own respective ways the existence of superior powers to which they all bowed. That is point number one.

Let me now move on to point number two. Many societies were content to rest matters there. That is, they were quite happy to keep themselves busy propitiating the deities and asking for all kinds of favours from them. But the more intensive seekers in ancient India decided to probe further and concluded, in the first instance, that there must be an overlord for these deities. The deities were like Viceroys, and there must be a Rex or a King who ruled over them. Thus it is that they convinced themselves about a Power superior to the deities. That power was called God.

Now arose an issue. Whom to worship? Some said, “Worship the deities for particular favours, and worship the God who ruled them when the deities were unable to deliver the goods.” Thus in ancient India, many started worshipping Varuna the God of Rain when the monsoon failed but prayed to the God who ruled Varuna when they wanted progeny or cure from illness and things like that. This is like going to different counters in a bank when one needs different kinds of service.

At this stage, some thinkers said, “Hey wait a minute. Let’s examine this business in some more detail.” They did and came up with an answer that is best illustrated by using the Bank analogy I just mentioned. In fact, this analogy can be seen in action all the time here in Prashantinilayam. Just go to, say, the main office of the State Bank of India during the working hours. You will find that many customers are seated with the Manager. Often, these are people from overseas who have big deposits in the Bank. They may have things they want to do like withdrawing some money, getting some foreign currency cashed, making new deposits and so forth. For every such activity, there is an assigned person and a counter for conducting the transaction; yet the VIP customer gets all his jobs done simply by sitting with the Manager. In the same way, these profound thinkers in ancient India came to the important conclusion that indeed all the favours one wants can be granted directly by God and that there was no need to separately take these issues up with the deities.

Doubts will not cease and some may protest saying, “Mister, is this not short-circuiting the structure inherent in Creation? If deities exist, it means that God created them. And having created them, God also presumably gave them jobs to do. What then is the big deal in by-passing them? Is this showing respect to God?”

A good point, and so let us examine further. Here I shall lean upon an illustration given by Swami. Let us say there is a lady. She is married, has children, and looks after the house. Now to her husband, this lady is the wife. To her children, this lady is the mother. To the father of her husband, this lady is the daughter-in-law. To the servant, she is the boss, to the street vendor she is a customer, and so on. One lady, but playing many roles. In the same way, God plays many roles. Actually there is no such thing as a separate deity; it is God Himself who plays that role. When we pray to a deity we are in fact praying to God but without understanding that it is really God who is functioning as what we imagine to be a deity. On such occasions, God functions within certain parameters that are normally associated with deities.

Let me give an example. A farmer wants rain, and so he prays to Varuna, the Rain God. If he is deserving, there might even be rain. The farmer also wants a son. However, he cannot say, “Hey Varuna, why don’t you be considerate and grant me a son?” If he did that, he would be told: WRONG COUNTER! Just like in bank.

DIETIESSo what is the lesson? Simple. Treat God as the Almighty, and you can place before Him ALL your wants. If you imagine that there are deities, then you have to go this deity for this and that deity for that. But forget deities and remember only God; then there is single-window clearance as they say. I hope our listener friend understands. The Lord makes this very clear in the Gita, in Chapter 9, for example. He says:

O Arjuna, I give heat; I send forth rain as well as withhold rain; I am Death as well as Immortality; I am Being as well as non-Being.

Those steeped in Vedic rituals worship Me with sacrifices and pray for Heaven; on death they would reach the world of the gods or Devas and share celestial pleasures with them.

The pleasures of the Heavens they certainly enjoy but merit exhausted, they return forthwith to the world of the mortals. Chained thus they are to the recurring cycle of births and deaths.

Kaunteya, even those devotees who endowed with faith worship the minor gods worship none other than Me though not by the proper method.

Indeed I am the Receiver and the Enjoyer of all offerings made. But not recognising me in entirety, they slip back to the mortal world.

Those who worship the gods go to the gods. Those who worship the manes go to the manes. Those who adore the spirits go to the spirits. But those who worship Me come to Me!

Well, that is what the Lord says and that really forms the bottom line. Incidentally, the Brahmaarpanam Sloka that we all chant is nothing but a reiteration of the statement I started with, namely that everything is God and nothing but God.

I now wish to take up another important aspect of the remarks made by our listener friend, namely asking God for this and that. There are many views on the subject, with some saying we can ask God for anything as long it is not bad while others saying no we should not burden God. What is the correct viewpoint?

The answer is clear. Swami says that if we must ask, it is better to ask God than to beg others. However, having said that, I must also point out that God would prefer that we did not ply Him with requests. Here allow me to recall a story narrated to me by late Dr. Fanibanda. He told me this many, many years ago, one night when both of us were seated in the Warden’s Office in Brindavan – a Summer Course was in progress then. Dr. Fanibanda’s story made a deep impression on me and I have never forgotten it. This is what he said.

It appears that many years ago, Swami was showering a lot of attention on a particular devotee. I mean lots of Interviews, gifts, vibhuti, rings, watches and what have you. There was another devotee who was doing a lot for Swami but hardly got any attention. And this other devotee who was apparently ignored neither felt bad nor complained. However, others who were watching all this from the ringside simply could not keep quiet and one fine day, one person blurted out, “Swami, You are giving so much attention to A but what about B? He is doing so much more and he seems to receive hardly any attention from You. How are we to understand this? In what way does Divine Grace work?” Swami smiled and replied, “That is simple. A is all the time telling Me about what he has done and I promptly reward him for that – all accounts immediately settled. B is not cashing his cheques and therefore earns My Grace. In a house there is a lady and also a servant. The servant does some work and gets paid. The lady does much more household work. But is the man of the house giving his wife a salary like he does to the servant? No, instead he gives her his love, provides security and takes care of all her wants. That is precisely the way the God operates!”

Well I suppose that story would make you think! Let me now briefly refer to the various types of devotees who come to the Lord. The Lord Himself has categorised them in the Gita, and I am sure you are all aware of it. At the bottom of the totem pole are those who want this and that, then come those who are suffering misery and want that removed, still higher are those who seek Knowledge and at the top are those who want nothing, absolutely nothing. Instead, their prayer is like that of St. Francis, which, by the way, we had published in one of our earlier issues – a great prayer. I think the Lord would prefer we go to Him with that kind of prayer.

Which brings me to yet another story and with that I shall sign off. This happened some years ago. A devotee had been given an Interview, and in the Inner Chamber where Swami engulfs the devotee with incomparable and Infinite Love, Swami told the devotee, “Ask for anything you want.” The devotee replied, “Swami I want nothing.” Swami then said, “I know, but ask nevertheless. There surely must be something you want.” Again and again Swami urged the devotee to ask and again and again the devotee insisted that Swami had already given everything and that he did not want anything more. Finally, giving in to Swami the devotee said, “Swami I shall ask for one thing.” “What is that?” “Swami, I want everyone to be happy and to receive Your Grace.” Swami was overjoyed and said, “You know, that is the best prayer one can ever make – to ask nothing for oneself and the very best for others!”

On that wonderful message of Swami, let me conclude, inviting you once more to write to us with your comments. By the way, I wonder if you have noticed that your questions make our work more purposeful, focussed and also very interesting for us. So, keep writing for we do welcome your response.

Jai Sai Ram. G.Venkataraman

Source: Radio Sai E-Magazine, 15th April 2004


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