"Love, Love, Love! Become what you truly are - the embodiments of Love. No matter how others treat you or what they think of you, do not worry. Follow Jesus Christ. Love for your own evolution and not for what others say. Do not imitate others. Cultivate your own life. You have your own heart, your own opinions, your own ideas, your own will. Why then imitate? Follow your chosen path. Let your own experience of God be your guide and master."
- Sathya Sai Baba
It was in 1975, while
attending a workshop, that
my wife and I first heard of
Sathya Sai Baba. During a
discourse on the subject of
reality, the leader stated
that an Indian Baba had
materialized a gold ring for
a friend of his. The gold
ring was said to have been
created from nothing. This
first brief and only mention
of Baba was a seed, which
unknown to us at the time,
was later to sprout and grow
into the most meaningful
quest of our lives.
In 1978, just four months after my wife first saw Sai Baba's picture on a book cover, she was with him in India. My mind didn't know what to make of it all. Although my relationship with Judy called for my total support of her need to be with Swami, still I was frightened, skeptical, jealous and confused.
I harbored scary thoughts of losing her to Baba himself... to illness... to another man... and to the unknown in general. Having read Man of Miracles as well as The Holy Man and the Psychiatrist and having heard numerous Baba stories from Judy and others, my curiosity and skepticism, not to mention Swami's invisible tug, pulled me to his ashram in southern India in the winter of 1980.
I'd never spent so many hours in an airplane; it seemed to take forever. Although the flight was smooth and uneventful - except for seeing two shooting stars as we entered Indian airspace - I was super-grumpy as we deplaned. Approaching the customs area, we were greeted by a customs official. Looking past him, I saw what looked like total chaos as hundreds of people stood by sheepishly while the customs agents seemed to be carefully searching all their luggage.
"How was your flight?" asked the customs official.
"Okay," I said, "but I'm really tired; I have a backache and I'm in a very grouchy mood."
He then apologized - although I don't know why - and sent us, luggage and all, right past the luggage examination area. All we had to do was show our passports; not a single bag was opened. "What luck!" I thought. (Or was it, really?)
After an overnight stay at a hotel in Bangalore, we journeyed by taxi to Prashanti Nilayam, Sai Baba's ashram, adjacent to the village of Puttaparthi. I couldn't believe that the trip from the USA would be worthwhile, especially after seeing the settling into the room that we had been given to use during our visit. Something wonderful would have to happen to me, just as compensation for my learning to adjust to our Indian-style toilet.
My first sight of Sai Baba was unremarkable. He looked like a nice enough man, but a "man of miracles"? I'd have to wait and see. After my first few days, the nicest and "highest" man I had encountered was the rice man in the ashram canteen. After several days I was still skeptical, homesick, and becoming increasingly moody. One beautiful morning, my darshan line was sent in first. I would be up close and maybe even get a chance to speak with Sai Baba.
But what should I say? Should I ask for something? I realized that I was carrying a school ring on behalf of a patient of mine, in order to have it blessed if the opportunity should arise. Besides the ring, I had a new sandalwood japamala (prayer beads) which could also be offered for Baba's blessing. My chance was at hand; Baba was about to pass directly in front of me. Now he was looking right at me as he approached.
With the ring and the beads cupped in my outstretched palms, I spoke, "Baba, please bless these things."
Swami smiled, put his right had on top of mine and pressed firmly. He then sang - not spoke - the words: "I bless."
As Swami continued on his way, I was overcome by the strongest and deepest outpouring of emotion that I can recall. It didn't make any sense to me. What was it that overwhelmed me? It is contrary to my nature and my imagined machismo to allow myself to collapse in tears, sobbing uncontrollably in front of other people. I knew that someone like John Wayne just wouldn't behave this way. I was in shock. Still in tears when I met Judy back at our room, I started laughing when she remarked, "Well, it looks like he got you, too." Apparently, Judy and other friends of mine noticed a visible difference in my appearance after this episode.
It was Christmas Eve when Sai Baba called Judy and me in for my very first personal interview. Following the gestures of Baba's volunteers, I made my way to the veranda to await his return from the throng of people who were receiving his darshan. I had a backache, was extremely nervous and my mind was racing. To calm my mind and center myself, I closed my eyes and began to use my japamala as I recited the divine names of God. After a little while, someone touched and shook my shoulder. As my eyes popped open, I saw Baba standing there beaming at me and saying, "You don't have to do that now. I am here." I was already feeling a lot better. Even my backache, caused by prolonged cross-legged sitting, had disappeared.
Within minutes, Swami ushered a group of us into his interview room. As we were seating ourselves facing his red velvet chair, Swami, the perfect host, moved about the room chatting with people and turning on the fan and room lights.
I had been considering the possibility that Baba might somehow be producing his materializations by sleight of hand and wanted to be in a position where I could see up his sleeve. So, of course, I wound up sitting at his right knee with a perfect view. At no time was there anything up his sleeve except his wrist and forearm.
In the course of the interview, Baba produced several items: a golden medallion, a silver necklace with a medal attached, a japamala and a silver box of vibhuti. Some of them appeared in his hand following a circular motion. The medallion, I believe, materialized in the air above his hand, which he then caught before it fell to the floor. My mind immediately created the new mental category of "real magic" Swami's materializations were so impossible that ordinary logical thinking simply did not apply. I did not - and cannot - doubt the reality of these and many subsequent experiences. Swami had totally opened my mind to allow for the truth of "other" existing realities.
At the time of this interview, I had been working as a psychotherapist in private practice. To facilitate the communication skills of my clients, I had spent many hours each week helping them to maintain eye contact comfortably. We would sit silently looking into each other's eyes, knee to knee, for increasing periods of time. When the client could do this comfortably for twenty or more minutes, he would "graduate" to a more difficult communication exercise. My own personal skill and comfort with eye contact had thus been enhanced to the point where I had to remember to look away from time to time in the course of ordinary relationships to avoid making other people uncomfortable.
This "eyeball to eyeball" experience would not be specially noteworthy except for what Baba did with me during this first interview. What did he do? Well, again and again, smiling all the while, he bent at his waist while tilting his head to one side and looked into my eyes from a distance of only several inches. He was clearly playing with me. Again and again, between private interviews with others in our group, Swami looked into my eyes from such a short distance that we could have rubbed noses. By this playful little eyeball game, Baba lovingly demonstrated that he really knew me and what I had been up to.
In the course of the private interview with Judy and me, Baba continued to shower attention and affection one me. My mind was as quiet as it had ever been while he was answering Judy's questions. While still conversing with her, Swami looked at me, put his left hand on top of my head and said, "I give you peace of mind." A minute later, again interrupting his talk with Judy and touching my head, he said, "I give you prosperity." A short while later, repeating the gesture, Swami gave me the blessing of long life. All I was able to say in response was, "Thank you."
Is it any wonder that I left this first interview feeling very special? I was sure that Baba was just crazy about me. We were pals. Later, I even told my wife that it seemed that Baba and I were now such good friends that if I went to the temple and invited him out for coffee, he would surely come with me. My ego had expanded to a size that could barely be contained by the ashram premises. This condition would not persist for long - Swami was about to make me a patient in his invisible "ego reduction clinic."
For the balance of our visit, Swami instantly - or nearly instantly - granted each and every inner wish of mine, but never again did he pay any outward attention to me. In fact, wish-fulfillment was occurring so frequently that I'd almost come to expect it. Little wishes and big ones, too. All were granted except for the desire for more personal time with Swami. On several occasions, I was very close to Baba physically, but I never saw him so much as glance at me. With hindsight, I have come to realize that this was Baba's way of molding me into a better person. You see, the inner wishes that got fulfilled were invariably of the type involving no personal gain. I was wishing interviews and boons for others, including an invitation to an Indian wedding for my wife, and once, during a middle-of-the-night emergency, a wish for a medical doctor, which despite all odds, was instantly fulfilled.
Since this first annual visit to Baba, the momentum of my spiritual transformation has accelerated. On numerous occasions, Swami has instantly responded, whether physically near or far away, to heartfelt prayers and wishes of mine. On one occasion during darshan at Prashanti Nilayam, as Swami was gracefully passing by, I silently pleaded, "Oh swami, please purify my heart." Immediately, I felt an incredibly pleasant warmth in the right side of my chest. Is my heart pure now? Not absolutely - but purer than before. I am certain that Swami, regardless of physical distance and circumstances, always knows that is on my mind and in my heart. I may only be occasionally aware of his presence, but he is always aware of mine. If only I were as devoted to him as he is to me!
In October of 1986, while at home in New York, I received a phone call from my mother in Florida, about 1400 miles away. She explained that my father, then 79 years old, was once again seriously ill, suffering with severe stomach pain and a bloated, distended abdomen. He was rushed to the hospital by ambulance where x-rays revealed a large black mass blocking evacuation of food from his stomach. This foreign mass appeared to be a tumor, and considering his history of intestinal cancer, was probably malignant.
I assured Mom on the phone that if Dad didn't get better right away, I would fly to his side, canceling or postponing my forthcoming trip to India. I asked her to ring me back immediately if there were any change in Dad's condition. When I returned the phone to it's cradle, I called aloud to Baba. The gist of my prayer was this:
"Swami, I know that you are aware of every thought and action of mine. You know that I have airline tickets and complete arrangements to visit you in India. It is my understanding that you want me to make this journey. Now Swami, if my father is ill, it is my duty to be with him and serve as best as I can. How can I come to India if my father is ill - perhaps about to drop his body? Baba, you must cure my father. You must cause that black mass in his stomach to disappear. Baba, you must do it right now. Please, Baba, don't say, 'Wait, wait,' as you often do when we speak in person. Please Baba, cure my father and prolong his life - at least until I return from my visit with you."
Some forty-five minutes after my mother's telephone call from the hospital in Florida, she called again. She said: "You'll never believe what happened. Your father is all better. Without any kind of treatment, his stomach and abdomen have returned to normal; he is free of pain and perfectly comfortable. The doctors have taken another set of x-rays and cannot find anything wrong. They do not know what became of the black mass revealed in earlier x-rays."
Dad stayed in the hospital for twenty-four hours under observation, as a precaution, and was then released. Only Baba and I knew the truth of what really happened.
Several weeks later, at Prashanti Nilayam, Swami called me in for an interview.
I said, "Baba, I want to express my thanks for the special rescue of my father."
Swami replied, " Ah yes, it is my duty."
During previous interviews, I had been so happy to be physically close to Baba that I had "blissed out," forgetting to ask him questions. All I'd been able to do was smile, smile, and smile some more. This time, I wanted it to be different, so I prepared a list of questions that were personally important to me.
One question concerned a high pitched, wavery sound in my right ear. The sound had begun during a meditation workshop two months earlier and has persisted ever since. The teacher had suggested that I listen to the sound instead of using a mantra, but several doctor friends told me that the sound was caused by a physical impairment of the ear. Not being a disciplined meditator, I tended to believe the doctors, and so I wanted Swami to tell me what was going on.
I said, "Swami, what is this sound that is always in my right ear?"
Baba laughed and said, "Ah, it is Omkar," and he proceeded to imitate my sound orally.
"Swami," I continued, "what am I to do with it?"
Again Baba laughed and said, "Follow it."
I still find it hard to believe that this constant sound is the primordial OM of divine origin and that it is to be my mantra. Out of his infinite wisdom and mercy for me, an undisciplined meditator, God has given me a mantra from which I couldn't switch and which I certainly could not forget.
There was a brief silent period near the end of this interview, and Baba looked at me as though asking what did I want.
I spoke: "Baba, I want God intoxication."
"Drunk... Baba, I want to be drunk on you," Swami started laughing, pulled my head to his lap and started rubbing and gently slapping my head and back. I can't tell how long this continued, but after I was again sitting upright, I was drunk. This lightheaded, blissful feeling was present most of the time for some six to eight months. I cannot state definitely that I was always, in fact, God intoxicated, but I often found myself in what is best described as a "witness" state. In this state, I know myself to be the silent and anonymous witness of my mind, ego, emotions, sensations and life drama. To this day, this witness state continues intermittently, but oh, if it would only stabilize!
Prior to Baba's birthday in November of 1986, I had a recurring desire to give him a gift. I couldn't, in truth, say that giving my heart would have been enough because, in a real sense, it had already been his from the first moment that he touched me. Think about it for a minute; what do you give an avatar on his birthday?
Well, over the years, I had seen many photocopies of letters that Swami had hand written, and I came to understand that he likes to write with a no-nonsense pen that performs as a good pen should. I, too, appreciate such a pen, and, in fact, had purchased an elegant high performance pen for myself. It was a real beauty: a jetblack case with gold-filled trim, housing a rolling ball-tip and a large, non-smearing ink supply; the most expensive pen I'd ever bought. Talk about "ceiling on desires!" It was a joy to behold and write with - so special that it was used only infrequently.
As Swami's birthday neared, it dawned on me that this pen might be a great gift for him, if only I would get the opportunity to give it. About a week after his birthday and one day before I had to return to Bangalore, Baba invited me in for the cherished personal interview. This was my big chance. The excitement that I felt was terrific. While Swami was autographing a photograph for me, I seized the opportunity to present the "special" pen to him and said, "I wanted to give this to you on your birthday, but was unable to get close enough to do so. Please accept it now." Smiling, Baba took the pen, examining it as he turned it between his fingers. Still smiling, he clipped the pen to the top of my shirt and said, "Here, you keep it."
I told him that now that he had handled it, I would treasure it all the more. Before long, the interview was over; but the saga of this "special" pen was just beginning.
About a day or so later, my wife and I were again in Bangalore, spending a few days at a city hotel before continuing our journey home. You might say that the pen came to life in the hotel lobby. What a dilemma! The pen seemed to be demanding, insisting, crying: "USE ME - PLEASE USE ME." Why a dilemma? Simple - I had no paper. More aggresively than usual, I collared a bellboy passing through the lobby and asked him to get some paper for me. "Nothing fancy," I explained, "Just get me a lot of writing paper." Some minutes later, I was writing as though possessed. And this "possession" has continued until this day.
This writing experience was really strange: here I was, writing about God and spiritual matters as though I had some special authority to do so. I did not feel or believe that I had such authority. I clearly realized that I was writing things that had been written and said many times before. Sometimes, I even felt as though I were pretending to be someone I was not; and yet the compulsion to write was not to be resisted. This sense of personal unworthiness about my writing still persists even though Swami told me in a recent personal interview that I should continue. I now realize that these writings, inspired by Baba, have encouraged an intense inner focus which has become a vital part of my spiritual practice. The question: "Who am I?" and the practice of self-inquiry is my primary sadhana. Seeking the very source of my mind and phantom ego has proved to be a valuable means for calming my chattering mind and emotions.
Several weeks later, back home in New York, and while I was still "possessed," the following story, fully developed, "asked" to be written:
The Curious Computer
Once upon a time, there was a little personal computer, who, unlike all other computers, experienced curiosity about itself and the world. It wanted to know who and what it was, where it came from, why it was here and what was the meaning of its existence.
Being a very curious little guy, he sought the answers to his questions as best he could. Sometimes, he would link up with giant mainframe computers by telephone and ask them, "What am I?"
Some wise mainframes said, "You are your hardware." Others said, "You are your programs." Some even said, "You are the sum total of information in your data banks." Once, a cynical micro-computer said, "You are just a machine; buttons on your keyboard are pressed and you respond by running programs and processing date: you are hardware, housing software and data. A machine is what you are and nothing more."
Starting to feel a bit hopeless, the PC inquired, "But how did I get here; where did I come from?"
The mainframe responded, "Your existence is just an accident, the result of a series of random events in the universe." PC queried, "But don't accidents and events themselves have causes?"
The big computer replied that he honestly didn't know.
The little computer could see that there was some truth in what he was told, but he felt that something was missing from the explanations. The notion of accidents and randomness wasn't satisfying, as he had observed that effects always have causes - which themselves are the effects of prior or simultaneous causes. He could see that effects were causes and causes were effects.
One day, as a Friendly User was between uses, the little PC, feeling courageous, flashed a message on his screen, "What am I?" he asked.
The User, being appreciative of past services well performed by the little computer, responded, "You are my computer, my friend in need - you are my friend indeed."
"Yes," replied the little computer, "but is that all that I am - hardware, a screen, a keyboard, some transistors, a data bank and programs? Am I just a machine that automatically responds to button pressing? What am I here for? What is my purpose in being? Where did I come from?"
The Friendly User was moved by the sincerity of the PC's desire to know the truth of his existence. He smiled, and after a while, he responded, "Your true basic nature is that of the energy, the electricity, that animates both your hardware and software. Yes, you are the life force that can become aware that it inhabits the hardware and motivates the software to function. Because you - the life force, the electrical energy, exist - you as personal computer, exist." He paused a moment and then continued, "Your hardware, screen, data banks and central processing units are collectively a machine. Your material aspects exist so that you may use them: first, to realize your own true nature; and second, that you may serve others in your world. All forms are simply different manifestations of the same truth that is your own nature. You are here to serve them so that, sooner or later, they may come to this same realization."
The little computer's screen remained blank for quite a while as he reflected on these words of wisdom. Finally, he displayed on his screen, "Understanding your words led me to turn my attention inward rather than to my keyboard, hardware, software or data banks. My deepest experience is just that, plain and simple: I AM. In the silence of my central processing unit, I experience my basic nature as awareness itself. For all my life, when 'on', I have been seeking the truth of my identity from all that has been added to my identity, and from all that my true nature enlivens, activates and gives form to. Now, I realize that everything that was added to my identity was simply a surface expression of my own true self."
The Friendly User was very pleased with the little PC's understanding and said, "Very good, little guy. You got it. Now, do you know who I AM?"
"You are God," replied the little computer.
"Yes, my child," said the Friendly User, "and so are YOU!"
In some extraordinary way,
Swami has used this birthday
pen to provide the energy
and irresistible motivation
for me to move closer and
closer to him.
Since that first moment when Sai Baba touched me, nothing has changed, and yet everything is different. The events and dramas of this life, as before, continue to be an apparent mixture of joys, sorrows, pains and pleasures. It is the container of the events of life that is somehow radically different: I am not exclusively my little ego "i" anymore.
I no longer consider myself to be my mind or my personality, and yet they persist. Baba has shown me clearly that I am neither this body nor any of the various roles enacted on the screen on my life, and yet the dramas continue. Just like the curious little computer, I am being led by Swami, as my Friendly User, to an ever deeper understanding of my own true nature.