Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Sathya Sai - an incident with insight on brutal deaths
When death arrives as a brutal end
Everything in the world arrives with an expiry date. There is nothing surprising about that. It is a fact that everyone is aware of; that everyone accepts. A loaf of bread goes stale, a batch of medicine becomes defunct and a piece of technology gets obsolete. When this happens, all the three are discarded ruthlessly and we move on. And yet, when that same expiry date arrives for a person, especially someone that we love, our whole world seems to change in ways more than one!
One of the most poignant and powerful is the experiences that the death of the loved one brings has been given a special term by the scriptures -Smashana Vairagyam (detachment of the crematorium). It is an automatic detachment that anyone attending a funeral experiences. The detachment overpowers the individual as a powerful reminder of the temporary nature of everything that we see around. In its wake, the problems that seem to torment us, differences that we promote, negative feelings that we harbour - all just melt away into relative insignificance. That is when one is lost in awe of the Creator and gets inspired to make his/her life worth something.
Having been blessed to come in contact with my Master and best friend, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, my understanding of death has undergone a definite transformation. I have come to realize that death is just a dress of life and I actually seek the kind of death that the people described in an article by the same name achieved. Such a death ensures one an entry into that world where there is no death because in that world, there is no birth.
Though I have come to accept, and in some measure even celebrate, death, one aspect used to keep bothering me. This bothering thought got triggered with Himalayan proportions recently when I was intimated about a tragedy. It was shocking to hear about the death of a dear Sai-sister from across the globe in Trinidad and Tobago. What was even more shocking was the fact that she had died succumbing to horrible injuries of a brutal beating that her ex-husband inflicted on her. The man was gone too, having shot himself after committing the beastly and dastardly act. And all this was after the woman had tended him out of several illnesses that struck him even after their divorce and separation. How could God or fate ‘reward’ such love and positivity in such a horrible fashion?
I must confess that this question really tormented my soul and and almost threatened to shake the very foundations of the Karma theory that is the basis of all my actions.
Root of the question
Though this ‘unfortunate’ event triggered this thought in me, such thoughts have arisen in me long before too. And that happened when I was pondering about the death of the Father of the Nation in India, Mahatma Gandhiji. For those that are unaware of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, let me say that you have missed one of the most phenomenal beings ever to grace the face of this planet. He was a being who inspired the great Albert Einstein (if you are unaware of him, make the number of your ‘phenomenal’ misses as 2) to say, “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”
Such a Mahatma (great soul), who could be considered as the single greatest influence responsible for freeing up the Indian nation from the clutches of the British Empire, lost his life in a shocking manner. Gandhi was assassinated in the garden of the former Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti) at 5:17 PM on 30 January 1948. Accompanied by his grandnieces, Gandhi was on his way to address a prayer meeting, when his assassin, Nathuram Godse, fired three bullets from a Beretta 9 mm pistol into his chest at point-blank range. The great soul breathed his last calling out, “Hey Ram, Hey Ram, Hey Ram”, the name of the deity whom he worshipped all his life.
It is said that the manner in which a person lives his/her life is reflected in the manner in which he/she dies. While this saying has been shown true in several noble and wonderful people having glorious deaths, I wondered how it could go so wrong in the case of the Mahatma. And more recently, I wondered how could this saying go so awry when it came to the case of this sweet, loving and ever-smiling Sai-sister.
The Mahatma’s sudden death and the terrible manner in which it came about, shook the whole nation. Even the great spiritual master, Ramana Maharshi was quite shaken by the news. As is the norm with the insensitive, rumor-mongering, hounding and sensationalizing press in India (at least a large proportion of it), even the Maharshi was requested for his views on the tragedy for ‘publication’ by a news journo. He is recorded to have replied in a choking voice,
“For the Mahatma’s death in this tragic manner, every person’s heart is mourning. What is there in particular that I could say? Who is there who is not grieved? If I say anything, you will publish it and then, one after another, people will come and ask me. What is the good of it?”
When a supreme master himself was grief-stricken and shaken, the reader can only empathize with me for having this question bothering me though decades have passed since the Mahatma left the earth.
“How could God give such a terrible end to such a terrific life?” That was my question. As it is oft repeated by spiritual masters, “There is no right answer. There is only the right question.” I think this question of mine was the right one though I cannot guarantee that the answer I received is the right one for all. It is definitely the right one as far as I am concerned and I wish to share this discovery.
How the ‘dreadful’ 30th January 1948 was not actually what it seemed to be
The Universe/God holds all the answers that one possibly could search for. However, the answer is not revealed till the seeker is ready to receive the answer. And the readiness of the seeker is revealed in him/her asking the right question. The ‘answer’ for me came through the knowledge of an incident that occurred on Martyr’s Day in 1948. The 30th of January 1948 was not called Martyr’s Day but every subsequent 30th January after that assassination of the Mahatma has been called so. The happenings on that day in the then remote village of Puttaparthi bear great significance. Th following episode has been documented by the long-standing devotee of Bhagawan Baba, Sri.Bala Pattabhi in his book, Sri Sai Leelamritam. It has also been narrated by a witness, D.N.Krishnamurthy in an interview on 19th May 1998 to Dr.R.Padmanabhan. (Dr.Padmanabhan got the honorary doctorate for his epochal work, Love Is My Form, documenting the first 25 years of Baba’s life.)
Swami (Bhagawan Baba) had taken a few people to the banks of the Chitravati river. This was something that everybody eagerly looked forward to because many were the miracles they would witness on the holy sands. However, that day was to be a different story. It was early in the evening when young Swami suddenly rose on His feet. Without a word or explanation, He began to run westward towards the Old Mandir. Rushing into His little room, He bolted the door as all the other devotees sat outside, wondering what had happened. Though He came out of the room once or twice, He spoke to none and appeared pensive. It was at about 7:30pm that Swami walked out of the room and joined the devotees. He told them that ‘Mahatma’ had passed away and that was the reason why He had ‘cancelled’ the Chitravati session and everything else that evening.
The word ‘Mahatma’ means great soul. The devotees who had gathered in Puttaparthi thought that some saintly soul had passed on and Bhagawan had visited him to bless him. It was only 2 days later, when a young Bala Pattabhi went to collect mail from the neighboring big village of Bukkapatnam, that he brought a copy of The Hindu newspaper. The newspaper carried the news of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination at about 5:30pm on the 30th of January - exactly at the very time when Swami began running and behaving in the strange manner! That was when the devotees realized that Swami had mentioned a name - Mahatma - and not some saint or sage.
Ah! Was I thrilled at this grace of God! Sathya Sai is a silent worker. And this was another instance that reinforced this conviction in me. God silently does a lot for us, never seeking credit or approbation. So silent is His work that on many occasions we do not even come to know of it. It is only His love and mercy that reveals His hand in events when it is necessary to bring solace to a soul. I feel that is precisely the reason why Swami ensured that this experience is recorded, preserved and passed on - for it arrives as a solace to many.
Now, I know that I do not know everything. That is a good beginning because misunderstanding arises from a narrow-vision or viewing from a single perspective. I was thinking that Gandhi had been rewarded with an unfair death because of my lack of knowledge of facts. Now imagine this - Even as Gandhi prepared to come out of his last ever prayer session, the Lord rushed, leaving behind whatever He was doing. He rushed for He had to receive the soul that was coming to His abode. What greater death can one choose? Such a death indeed proves the saying that the manner in which one dies is testimony to the manner in which one lives.
Today, when I think about the death of this sweet Sai-sister, I remind myself the same truth - that I do not know the whole story. I do not know what God intended for the soul and how God received the soul. I just see from my limited perspective - a murder - just like I saw in Gandhi’s case - an assassination. Just because God chooses not to reveal at the present time His Masterplan, it does not mean that there is no Masterplan. Knowing the noble manner in which this sister lead her life, I am sure that she has been accorded her due by the Lord. That is my faith.
And for those that question that “rationality” of faith, I have only this to say.
“How do you know that some lady is your mother? Because she and your ‘father’ said so? What if they are lying (as it happens in many cases)? So you have birth certificate records. What if they are forged? Of course, there are the paternity and genetic tests. But how do you know that the machine that does the test is right? Do you place your faith in it? How can you believe that the scientist who has founded this method of testing is right? Couldn’t he have been fooling everyone? Can you believe a method just because all the hospitals in the world use it? Is that scientific? If you see ‘rationally’ there is no end to doubt unless you have all the knowledge in the world. And that is possible only if you are God! Till then, you have to start off with faith. You accept someone as your mother and see your faith getting reinforced by her loving and caring actions. That is how even the scientific world works - with ‘faith’ at the basic level, faith in an axiom.”
May you rest in peace Sister Dian. I know for sure that you rest in the lap of God with a smile on your lips. And I know that from the beautiful fragrance that your life is in the lives of all those people who came in touch with you. Even as I type this, a soft voice from within reminds me that you left the earth in the time of the Uttarayana, the holiest of holy times for any soul planning to leave the earth. Even the great warrior of righteousness, Bheeshma in the Mahabharata, waited for 56 days with hundreds of arrows embedded in his body for this very period to give up his body. Yours indeed has been a blessed life sister Dian.
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© 2014 Aravind Balasubramanya