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Should you share your most personal spiritual experiences?
On sharing a 'personal experience'...
One question that I have often faced from myself and from others alike is on the subject of sharing experiences with my Swami ( Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) with the wide world. The two voices in me have a dialogue on this subject.
“They are personal experiences. And so, they must be kept that way. Do not make personal experiences into public ones!”
“The term ‘personal’ means belonging to you in such a manner that you can choose to do anything with it. After all, it is your ‘personal’ experience right? So, while some choose to keep silent about it, some choose to talk about it. ‘Personal’ refers to your freedom about doing what you want with the experience!”
“There are people to whom Baba has said to keep the experiences to themselves.”
“There are people too, to whom Baba has said that the more they share their experiences, the greater would be their joy.”
The debate goes on. And as always, I seek a solution inwardly from Him . Then, an inspiration forms from within. That inspiration guides me to different stories and reminds me of different experiences. And then, I remember that beautiful interview where Swami showed me that an inspiration is indeed Him communicating with us from within. Inspiration is divine. Inspiration is God-given. Inspiration is verily God! So, with prayers of love and gratitude in my heart, I make an attempt here to sincerely pen down all that He is inspiring from within.
The inspiring story of Sri Ramanujacharya
The first thing that hit me was the biography of Sri Ramanujacharya as written by Swami Sivananda of the Divine Life Society in a compilation called the ‘The Lives of Saints’. Sri Ramanujacharya is considered as the greatest exponent of one of the three schools of philosophy - Vishishta Advaita (the other two being Advaita and Dwaitha).
The story goes that Ramanuja proceeded to Thirukottiyur, a place in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, to receive initiation into the eight-lettered mantra “Aum Namo Narayanaya” from the great master Nambi. (He was called Thirukottiyur Nambi). Nambi proved to be a very strict disciplinarian and demanding master and he simply refused to part with the powerful mantra. Ramanuja travelled the distance from Srirangam to Madurai about 18 times and waited patiently upon Nambi before he finally decided to initiate the seeker into the powerful mantra.
And even before Nambi initiated Ramanuja, he extracted solemn promises of secrecy. He told him,
“Ramanuja! Keep this Mantra a secret. This Mantra is a powerful one. Those who repeat this Mantra will attain salvation. Give it only to a worthy disciple previously tried. Otherwise, you will have to suffer the libations of hell!”
However, even as the young Ramanuja received the mantra, he ran to temple, assembled all the people there and shouted out the sacred mantra at the top of his voice. Nambi, his Guru, came to know of this and became furious. He rushed to Ramanuja in ‘anger’. Ramanuja said:
"O my beloved Guru! Please prescribe a suitable punishment for my wrong action. I will gladly suffer the tortures of hell myself if millions of people could get salvation by hearing the Mantra through me". Nambi was very much pleased with Ramanuja and found out that he had a very large heart full of compassion. He embraced Ramanuja with all love and blessed him.
Divine Discourse - 25th March 1965
I came across a discourse that Swami delivered at Kakinada on the 25th of March 1965. In that, He speaks emphatically about the concept of Moksha (liberation or the ultimate consummation) in this manner:
You must have heard of people seeking moksha (liberation) and getting moksha; many may be under the impression that it is some rare honour that only a few secure or that it is some area like Paradise or a Colony of the Elect or a Height that some heroic souls alone can climb up to. No; moksha is something which all must achieve, whether they are heroic or not; even those who deny it have to end by realising it. For, every one is even now seeking it when he seeks joy and peace; and, who does not seek joy and peace? Moksha is when you have lasting joy and lasting peace. Tired with temporary joys and transient peace, man will at last endeavour to know the secret of permanent joy and peace, that is to say, of Moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Liberation from the cycle of birth and death needs one to recognize the oneness of Spirit in all the beings - living and ‘non-living’. What better and easier way to imbibe this oneness than to share and care with everyone as if they were one’s own? Live with the faith in the brotherhood of man and fatherhood of God the way Ramanuja did?
Bhagya sir's experience
The experience of Prof.Bhagya, a most inspiring and loving soul in the department of Management, Accounting and Finance at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning at Prasanthi Nilayam, Puttaparthi gave me that final inspirational push.
He came to Puttaparthi giving up a very lucrative and promising career. Spirituality was his sole goal in life and he did not want to ‘waste’ his time and resources on anything other than spirituality. When He came to Puttaparthi, Swami told him to become a teacher in the MBA department. After some time of working there, he grew disillusioned. He felt that he had given up all kinds of work only to come to Parthi and get stuck in teaching students statistics and quantitative methods!
During an interview in 1990 at Prasanthi Nilayam, he boldly told Swami that he wanted to resign from his job as a teacher.
“I have come here for spiritual work. I don’t want to get involved in worldly work.”
What Swami told him sent shivers down his spine as he admitted later.
“If you separate things as spiritual work and worldly work, I will not give you what you seek even in a 1000 lifetimes.”
“I was shocked! The command with which Swami said that He would not give me what I desired - Moksha - made me drop to my knees in awe. And He also said that a 1000 years would not be enough to get that!”
Swami then continued to tell him that there was a reason for everything.
“It is not enough if you seek Moksha for yourself. Be selfless and take 10 people along with you on the path. Your redemption lies in the redemption of your fellow-beings. Take care of my students and I shall take care of you completely.”
Today, when I think of Bhagya sir, my heart oozes with gratitude to him. I remember each of his classes, not because of the academics it imparted but because of that strong and never-effacing love for Swami that he etched in our hearts. He taught us the subjects for our examinations of course; but most importantly, he taught us what Swami considers as His Subject - love for God. And he did this by sharing almost all of his most personal experiences. Even to this day, students who have passed out the MBA programme decades ago come to meet him and seek counsel, solace and a recharge of love for God. And that applies to me too!
Now, that has become a mantra for me also. Share everything that the Lord gave with as many people as possible. The mouth may be lucky to receive all the delicacies and tasty foods but when the mouth is fed, the whole body is fed.
Another favorite teacher of mine, Sri Sailesh Srivastava from the Higher Secondary School had told me,
“We do not know why some people get to be the mouth while some others are the limbs and still others become the heart. Swami feeds only the mouth, but that provides the nutrition to the rest of the body. So, the hand should never get jealous of the mouth. At the same time, the mouth should realize that since it was chosen to be a ‘mouth’ it is receiving food and not because it is loved more than the limbs or the heart!”
That message too is firmly entrenched in my heart.
On a concluding note, I recall what Swami has said about speaking in general:
Before you speak, think.
1. Is it necessary?
2. Is it true?
3. Will it hurt anyone?
4. Will it improve upon the silence?
I feel that the same holds good for sharing one’s personal experiences with Swami too - with one more addition however. Thus, my formula for sharing personal experiences with Swami to the world is:
1. Is it necessary? - (If it enthuses anyone who listens or reads and strokes the flame of love for God in their hearts, I shall deem it necessary.)
2. Is it true? -( I will not exaggerate the facts nor play down my failings so that everyone can experience almost what I experienced.)
3. Will it hurt anyone? - (If in the experience, there was a third party involved in a ‘negative role’, I shall not mention names nor will I focus on it. Unless absolutely essential for the flow of the narrative, I shall not even mention that person.)
4. Will it improve upon the silence? - ( I shall narrate only if I am convinced that the reading or listening will give greater joy of the divine kind.)
And finally, my own guideline, inspired from within:
5. Does it make me egoistic? ( I shall not speak of an experience if it gives me a false sense of me being a hero. The hero is always God - the ‘1’ that gives value to every ‘0’ beside Him!)
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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya