Debate: Are Means more important than the Ends - an experience with Sri Sathya Sai

A debate that has raged on for centuries

There are some questions asked, the answers to which have been highly debated and largely unsolved. And that is because of the logic of the arguments that support the different answers. One such question is whether everything in life is destined or whether it is based on human effort, the classic ‘Destiny vs Free Will’ debate. Another such classic debate is this:

"Do means justify the ends or do the ends justify the means?"

In other words, the debate is whether the goal is more important than the path one takes to achieve it or the path one takes is more important that the actual goal one wishes to achieve. History is replete with examples of both stances and I shall quote only one example to emphasize the point.

1942. The war that had broken out in Europe was turning to be the second World War. Back home in India, it was the time when an enslaved nation was preparing for a last great effort to overthrow the British rule.

Among the many nationalist leaders in India, two are distinct in their opposing philosophies. One is Mahatma Gandhi and the other is Subash Chandra Bose. The former took up ahimsa or non-violence as the means to achieve political independence for India. The path was arduous and it didn’t seem to affect the British rulers negatively. They were happy that their ‘enemies’ were peaceful. However, Gandhiji was not ready to give up ahimsa even when it looked like the British might never grant independence. He believed in the means completely. On the other hand, Subash Chandra Bose took up arms against the British. Netaji was ready to garner the support of even the axis powers - Germany and Japan - to crush the British in India. He believed in the goal of independence and was ready to take any means to achieve it.

A 1938 image of Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subash Chandra Bose sharing a lighter moment. They did not share the same thoughts about ways to get Independence for India though...
A 1938 image of Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subash Chandra Bose sharing a lighter moment. They did not share the same thoughts about ways to get Independence for India though...

Indian mythology also provides us with examples of both stances. On one hand there is the emperor Harishchandra who was ready to sacrifice his kingdom, his family and his self-respect too to uphold the Truth. Such was his ‘obsession’ with the means that he is known today as Sathya Harishchandra (the Harishchandra who embodied Truth). On the other hand, there are the twin guards at the doors of Lord Vishnu’s abode, Vaikuntha, who were cursed to give up their privilege and lead several births on earth. There, when given a choice between 7 births as the greatest devotees of the Lord or 3 births as haters of the Lord, they chose the latter so that they could complete their ‘punishment’ as soon as possible and return. Thus, they gave importance to the ends as they took birth as God-hating pairs - Hiranyaksha & Hiranyakashyapu, Shishupala & Dantavakra, Ravana & Kumbhakarana.

That bring us back to the debate on which gains priority - the means or the end? Observing the life and studying the teachings of my God, Master, best friend and guide, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the conclusion is so clear. Before delving into that however, it would be refreshing to relive an episode from the student-life of Mr. Pushkaraj Gumaste (currently M.D at Barclays Capital) which highlights the conclusion.

A picture of Pushkaraj Gumaste with his beloved Swami in Kodaikanal (1993).
A picture of Pushkaraj Gumaste with his beloved Swami in Kodaikanal (1993).

Darshan-rush among a few students in the hostel

The experience dates to 1991-92. Pushkaraj Gumaste was one among a group of five students who were known to do anything possible in order to be among the first few lines seated for darshan in the grounds at Prasanthi Nilayam. Darshan is the term which approximately translates into “sight of God/ holy man/ saint”. The devotees of Baba use that term to denote those periods in the day when their beloved Lord, Sri Sathya Sai, walks amidst them, collecting letters, offering solace, counseling, cajoling, uplifting and thrilling them with His presence.

In the darshan grounds, the students occupied the vantage point in the front and in the portico of the prayer hall (which is a building within the darshan grounds). The most sought after places to sit were a few dozen spots right outside the door of the interview room in which Swami would grant interviews for the privileged few. As described in Satyamev Jayate - Truth Alone Triumphs, there was a lines system which was put in place to ensure that every student from the 8th grade to the Post-graduate classes gets an equal chance to sit in those coveted spots.

However, thanks to some intelligent circumnavigation of the lines system and breaking of a few rules, Pushkaraj and his friends managed to somehow sit right outside the interview room door almost daily. And this happened much to the chagrin of other students who would ‘fight’ their way through the system and arrive eagerly only to see that half the ‘privileged spots’ had already been occupied. The ‘violators’ did not worry much about this. They were literally mad in their love and adoration for Swami and “all is fair in love and war” right? So, they continued to bunk the lines and ‘cheat’ their way into the front seats during darshan.

A Darshan session in 1991-92

This photo gives a good idea of how the Darshan grounds looked in 1992. The building on the left is the bhajan hall in front of which is the sheltered portico. This is where the 'privileged spots' were.
This photo gives a good idea of how the Darshan grounds looked in 1992. The building on the left is the bhajan hall in front of which is the sheltered portico. This is where the 'privileged spots' were. | Source

The turning point happened on one of those days when Swami decided to arrive for darshan earlier than usual. Those days, Swami resided in the small room above the interview room itself (and not in the Yajur Mandir which became His residence in 2006). As usual, this ‘famous five’ group had reached the darshan hall much before the actual lines had arrived. They were just waiting for the students to arrive so that they could rush ahead and occupy the best seats. However, today the plans went slightly awry.

Even before the students arrived from the hostel, the interview room door opened and Swami stepped out to move on the darshan rounds. The five boys looked at each other and nodded in silent understanding. They simply burst into the darshan hall and quickly occupied the privileged spots. Swami saw them!

He walked up to them and asked,
“Where are all the boys? How come they have not yet arrived?”

The five boys sat silent. What were they to answer?

“I see! You have come before the lines. What gross indiscipline is this?! This is bad. Wait. I shall put you in trouble now by complaining to your warden.”

Even as Swami said this and moved for the darshan rounds, there was a twinkle in His eye and a hint of a smile dancing on His lips. The boys were relieved. Swami was apparently joking only. He would not hold good on His threats. Having completed the darshan rounds, Swami moved into the interview room. He had taken a few people for interview and once the door shut, the darshan hall settled into a relaxed state. The high levels of anticipation, devotion, excitement and attentiveness subsided.

The ‘famous five’ too relaxed and smiled at each other. It seemed as if the smile that Swami had bestowed on them was like an approval stamp on what they had been doing all along. Today had been a very special day for them. They had been the only students who had enjoyed the privilege of darshan. And that was all because of their intense yearning and desire to be in the forefront of all darshan sessions. It was as if, for them, the end was justifying the means they had taken.

Soon, the lines of students from the hostel arrived. The boys who were in the front rushed to occupy the best seats. The same ‘depressing’ sight met their eyes as 5 spots had already been occupied. Adding to the ‘depression’ was the fact that today darshan had already been completed and they had all missed it.

The interview room door which is next to the bhajan hall. Everyone sought for a chance to sit closest to this door for Swami would emerge from behind it!
The interview room door which is next to the bhajan hall. Everyone sought for a chance to sit closest to this door for Swami would emerge from behind it!
A picture of Sri Sathya Sai coming out of the interview room during His Birthday celebrations.
A picture of Sri Sathya Sai coming out of the interview room during His Birthday celebrations.

Nobody had imagined what was to come. The whole hall in general and the portico of the mandir especially had grown quiet as all the students had settled in their places. The interviews had been complete and all the interviewees had exited silently with beaming faces. Swami could be coming out anytime now.

Suddenly, the door banged open! We have all heard of doors being bang shut. We also would have personally experienced doors banging shut.

“But”, as Pushkaraj explained, “the doors of the interview room were literally banged open from the inside and we all were wondering as to what was happening.”

Swami stormed out of the interview room. He seemed quite upset and angry.

“Where is the warden?”, He thundered, “Sanjay Sahni...”

Sri Sanjay Sahni, currently the principal of the Brindavan campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, came running to Swami. He had no idea why Swami was so angry and was least prepared to hear what was to come next.

“There is absolutely no discipline in the hostel. I don’t know to what depths and nadirs the hostel culture has fallen to!”

Still, Sri. Sanjay Sahni had no clue about what Swami was referring to. The ‘famous five’ suddenly realized that Swami did not appear to be joking from any angle. It was a dead serious situation - He was serious and therefore, they were dead!


concluded in the article entitled:

Means vs Ends - Resolution of a timeless debate

What, according to you is more important?

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© 2013 Aravind Balasubramanya

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Comments 7 comments

Yarisha 3 years ago

My Experience: The 'ends' are essentially a product of the means. If means are good, ends are good. It is the intention that creates the outcome. When we do something wrong to achieve what we believe is good, the outcome seemingly good will be short lived as its foundation is Adharmic. Only the rewards resulting from Dharma are everlasting.


Sridevi 3 years ago

~ly what time will the 2nd part be posted?!?!?


Prashanth 3 years ago

I have a personal story of mine too ! It was in our 10th standard. One evening, I got really late for Darshan and as I rushed to the lobby, I found almost every Sir waiting for those who were late to give them a sound dose ! I wasn't too worried about the dose. But I was already late and din't want to be further late as I wanted to get to Kulwant Hall before the Darshan starts. Somehow. Then, a plan struck me I ran to the B-floor terrace, jumped down the walls ( thanks to Sports meet practices :P) and was about to run for Darshan when I found to my utter dismay that I had jumped right in front of Janardhan Sir You know the rest of the story. I was termed indisciplined for some time 'coz I tried jumping down the walls ! I tried explaining to everyone that my intention was only to go for Darshan as quickly as possible ! My attempts to make people understand were futile. I was extremely angry and sought an explanation for this. After seven years, I am getting it through your blog Thanks !


Kokila Vaidyanathan 3 years ago

Ooohhh the tension is building brother....can't wait for Part 2. Somehow corner of my mind says that Swami wasn't really angry but at the same time conveying the message in a stern way...but boy can't wait for the mystery to be unfolded...bro Ajay who was part of some of these events but hasn't given it out...tick..tick.. counting..Sairam


saisarannaga 3 years ago from Chennai in Tamilnadu, India.

The beautiful episode brings into my memory those golden days from 1965. Yes, we were new to the place but on 7th January 65, we directly went and sat in the veranda opposite to Swami's interview room. At that time, that was the routine. Swami came outside and called us in. It was no offense then. But the collages have come, the crowd surged enormously. Swami used to come out and select the prospective candidates for the healing session. Thank you for kindling my memory. A deep thought out episode and it is intriguing which way it will turn. Hence post the continuity quickly!


Maria 3 years ago

This truly depends on individual thinking, just now I AM being evicted, as in kicked to the curb current market conditions here make it a great time to sell at a profit- its justifying my landords means- for me ths calls for firm faith- knowing Swami is in charge , so its not being done to me its being done for me. God will make a way, as long as I have breath, someone needs what I can still render. Gods pan for us is always bigger than our own. Losing trust will block the help that is on the way. The end justifies HIS means.We are masterpieces in his eyes! When its dark around us the sun is still shining high above the clouds, so I'll stick to my sunrise faith.


Ajay Singh 3 years ago

I joined in 1992, the same year Pushkaraj Gumaste joined. There were days when I managed to join the Famous Five (mostly on days when the Famous Five's expanded to Terrible Ten's - once or twice a week), following in his footsteps (I knew him from pre-Parthi days at Mumbai, and looked up to him, emulation followed naturally). It was mostly the feeling of fear, guilt, and unfairness that prevented me from doing it on a daily basis, but trust me, circumventing the system was really really easy, and came with great rewards . For the Famous Five though, it felt like Swami had eradicated any feeling of guilt or fear from their hearts... till that day. I know the story, but thank you for re-creating those memories from 20 years ago. Looking forward to reading your wonderful way of rendering it.

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