My first memorable interaction with Sathya Sai as His student
The inexplicable silence...
I always felt that when I became a devotee of Sri Sathya Sai, He got me free and quick! Allow me to explain through a little detour. I first saw Swami through photographs when I was just about 7 years old. I used to wonder who this person with curly hair was. My father used to keep photos of Swami at home because he had been to Swami when he was about 12 years old. His experiences are the subject of some other article(s). Anyway, the highlight of his arrival to Swami was his thread ceremony.
The sacred thread ceremony (called Upanayanam ) is important for every Brahmin in India. Swami had performed this ceremony for my father and had whispered the holy Gayathri mantra ( a powerful invocation with great spiritual benefits) into his ears. And this was while seating him on His own lap. Since then, my father had a string of experiences that bound him inseparably with Swami.
But strangely, after marriage, he had become very silent about Swami. Though marriage is known the silence men, it did not hold true in that sense for father. My mother, in no way had a role in ‘suppressing’ Swami in any manner. In fact, she was always keen to know about Swami. Today, in retrospect, I feel that it was only His will that my father kept silent about Him after his marriage. None can come to Swami without His will!
My introduction to my Lord - instantaneous and firm
That was, till I began to ask him about Swami. I kept pointing to Swami’s picture in our home and asked my father who that person was.
My father had first replied to me that He was the one who had performed his thread ceremony. I thus assumed that Swami was a priest of some sort who initiated people into chants. But then, I got another doubt that I guess irked my father. I asked,
“Father, why do you keep the picture only of the priest who performed your thread ceremony? What about the priest who performed your marriage or my naming ceremony for that matter?”
Exasperated and desperate, my father told me,
“You want to know who He is? He is God. Worship Him and He will take care of you in every way.”
At that instant, I believed in Sathya Sai and placed my faith in Him. I also seemed to develop some kind of unquenchable attraction and love for Him. It was as simple as that.
My resolve on joining God's school...
Now you will understand what I mean by saying that Swami got me free and quick. When I read accounts and narratives of devotees, I came to know of wondrous miracles that brought them to Swami and convinced them of His divinity. I felt that by accepting Him straight, I had missed the opportunity to throw a challenge at Him and get an ‘experience’ for myself! The debate between faith and experience - as to which begets which - is a raging one and I got an answer for that debate much later in my life. Anyway, I was happy because implicit faith has its own advantages.
When I joined the Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School in 1998, my mother told me, “From now on, Swami is your mother, your father, friend and God. Share everything with Him and He will take care.” Armed with that advice, I entered the hostel. When I first arrived to the hostel, my concept was that it would be the perfect gurukula (ancient Indian hermitage where the teachers would stay with students. The students would be all treated as equal irrespective of the families and backgrounds they came from).
Its not that it wasn't, but it did not match exactly my concept of the gurukula. The teachers definitely spoke a lot about Swami and values were valued. I still remember my physics teacher, Sairam sir, asking us in the first class that he took as to what our aims to study in this hallowed place were.
The answers that arose that time made me feel as if I was seated in an assembly of sages! One said,
"I want to serve the society till the last breath."
"Like Vivekananda, I too would like to realize my true self!"
It was my turn to answer. The first impression is the best one they say. I wanted to speak something that would make everyone sit up and listen with awe and respect. And so I got up and said,
"I want to be with Swami."
It did not create the sensation that I had desired as there was nothing brilliant in that answer, but i could think of nothing else! And maybe that is the thing about the Truth. It falls out so easily from the heart and the mouth that it actually requires an effort to lie. And that must be why our ancients always advised us to speak the Truth maybe!
A Gurukula is special because of the interaction between the Guru and the students. Swami was undoubtedly the Guru here and I longed for interactions with Him. I wondered as to how I would achieve it. It was on a jogging trip to the Hanuman statue on top of the Vidyagiri hill that I discovered the answer. (At least I thought at that time that I did!) As we jogged, my senior from the XII class pointed to a tall and lanky student and said,
"You know that Prashant. He is a form boy."
I wondered what that meant and also pondered whether there was anything like "formless" boys... ?
"He is not formless like us," he completed, even as I was thinking about it!
I knew of 'deformed' boys and maybe even 'reformed' ones but these two categories just mentioned were entirely new.
My thoughts must have played clearly on my face for the senior said in a lowered voice,
"Swami likes him a lot and speaks to him a lot. He is close to Swami."
It was then that I understood that the term "form" had been borrowed from Cricket! A batsman in form is always admired. And when he performs below par, he is "out of form." So I assumed that "formless" were those who never had made it big anytime!
Now my mind also began to jog with my body and soon was sprinting furiously. Not exactly the person to believe completely in destiny and give up freewill, I thought, "Well. There must be some reason why he is so dear to Swami. I will find out and soon will get into form." I remember sitting at my study desk in the night writing in my diary,
"Today I have made a decision. I will become a form boy of Swami."
My 'love letter' to Him...
Every night in the hostel, we were given special sheets of paper on which we could write the name of any form of the Lord we loved. This was part of the Sadhana that students could take part in. While different students wrote either, “Jai Sri Krishna” or “Aum Sri Sai Ram” or any other name as per their choice, I wrote, “I love you Swami.”
Every night, I wrote that hundreds of times. We were told that all our “Sadhana sheets” could be submitted and they would be offered to Swami. The sheets would then be used to pack the holy vibhuti prasadam. I felt shy of submitting my writings and so, I placed the sheet in my own altar in my cupboard.
Suddenly a thought struck me,
“All the sadhana of the other students is being offered to Swami. But my sheet is lying in my cupboard. I should offer it to Swami myself.”
My plan was to offer the sheet on which I had professed my love for Him like a letter. Satisfying myself thus, I took the letter one evening for darshan. I felt that if the intensity of my love was true, Swami should accept my ‘letter’ on the same evening.
I was seated in the center of a group of students. I wondered as to how Swami would ever be able to take my letter as I was a minimum of 6 people away from Him from all sides of the group. And sure enough, as I thought, the Darshan session was over and the letter still remained with me. Swami took a group of devotees for interview. About half an hour later, He came out. He came walking till where we were seated and I was just watching curiously.
Then, all of a sudden, Swami told two students to part and make way! Just like the sea giving way to Moses, the students made a path from Swami to wade amidst us! In the new path that was formed, I was in the second line and so would be within Swami’s ‘reach’. Immediately, my ego took over. I felt like some great devotee of the Lord who had pulled the Lord to Himself sheerly through the power of his devotion. My chest puffed up and I awaited Him. As He came near, I extended my ’letter’ and He accepted it! I bent my head down to look at His feet when a sheet of paper fell by my side.
I was surprised to see that it was the letter I had given Him! I quickly picked it and looked upwards to give it back to Him. But, Swami had walked away by then! I was shocked and devastated. My bloated ego fizzled out and I reprimanded myself, “You thought you were a great devotee and see what happened! Remember that it is always God’s grace...”
However, tears dropped from my eyes. I was sad. In an instant, I had traveled from heights of joy and pride to depths of sorrow and feeling inferior. How I wish I knew how to tread the amazing middle path!
The love of my life...
Swami moved a little ahead and began to wave His palm. He had materialized vibhuti for some fortunate devotee. The practice those days was that when Swami created vibhuti for anyone, any student who had a clean white kerchief could offer the same to Swami to wipe His hands on. Since I had a handkerchief with me, I rushed to Swami. He did not even look at me. Looking at the devotees, He took the kerchief and wiped His right hand. He threw back the kerchief at me. As I held it, He suddenly turned and patted me on my shoulder!
I was taken aback. I looked up at Him and He had a smile on His face. He seemed to be pointing at my pocket and when I saw there, I realized that He wanted my letter! Oh! Was I thrilled. I fished the letter out of my pocket and He accepted it. He placed it safely in His hands and then walked on. I returned to my place.
Again, I had tears in my eyes. Only this time, they were tears of joy! The timing, the situation, the whole episode - everything seemed to have built up to this crescendo. I knew that I had found the love of my life.
Here are some more experiences from my school days...
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