Prayer requests and the Gratitude Programme - lessons from students of Sri Sathya Sai Baba
A Heavenly Tour
There is a story about how a seeker went to the abode of God on a casual visit. The whole place (let’s call it as the heavens) was bubbling with activity and nobody seemed to be having any time to spend in leisure. He walked into the place and up to a person sitting at one of the counters, wolfing his lunch in a great hurry.
“Excuse me sir. Could I please speak a minute with you?”
“Speak fast my fellow. How can I help you?”
“Could you tell me what is going on here?”
“Ah! This is the “Prayer Requests” receiving section of heaven. And we are receiving and segregating the various prayers for health, wealth, fame, intelligence, peace and happiness.”
“Do you not take a proper break for lunch at least?”
“No my dear man! We cannot. In fact, we do not take rest even at night. How many ever angels we employ, we seem to be understaffed. The human world constantly bombards us with prayer requests...”
The seeker walked on, not wanting to be a burden on the already taxed department in heaven. He walked into another area where work seemed to be going on at a more frantic pace. Curiosity got the better of him and he walked up to a person sitting at one of the counters. He was struggling to have a quick bite between his work.
“Excuse me sir. Could I please speak a minute with you?”
The person went about his work, barely acknowledging the presence of our seeker. It became evident that the working angel there had no time even to answer. He looked up at a board which announced, ‘Prayers Fulfillment’, and understood what was going on. The angels here were processing everything that arrived from the ‘Prayer Requests’ section and fulfilling them at various ‘time intervals’. The guiding philosophy of the section was also prominently displayed on a giant wall via a statement -
“Remember - When you receive a prayer for fulfillment, answer it in any of the following three ways:
1. Say “Yes” and fulfill the request immediately.
2. Say “Wait” and give the seeker something better.
3. Say “No” and give the seeker the best in due course of time.
Marveling at the wisdom, he moved on to the third department in heaven. Surprisingly, the whole place seemed deserted. There was just a single angel there and he welcomed the seeker with open arms.
“Are you planning to shut down this section? What is this part of heaven for?”
“Ah!” replied the angel, “All our staff have been sent to assist the ‘Requests’ and ‘Fulfillment’ sections. We barely have any work here.”
“What is this section anyway?”
“This is the ‘Acknowledgement’ section where we receive gratitude for the fulfilled prayers” the angel said even as he smiled and walked away to his desk.
The seeker followed him and decided to ask one final question...
The concept of Gratitude Programme
Hearing this story (I know I haven’t completed it yet) brings to mind a doha (couplet) of the saint, Kabirdas (1440–1518), which states,
Dukh Mein Sumiran Sab Karein, Sukh Mein Karein Na Koi.
Jo Sukh Mein Sumiran Karein, Dukh Kahe Ko Hoi?
This translates into,
“Everyone remembers God in times of sorrow, but nobody does so in times of joy. Those that remember God in times of joy will never seem to know sorrow.”
And that speaks volumes about the power of gratitude. For, it is only one with gratitude that one remembers God in times of joy. And if we are to believe the experience and wisdom of this mystic poet and saint from India, such people with gratitude will always be happy. The simple act of genuine gratitude seems to attract more of the objects and experiences that one is grateful for.
It appears as if all the wise people realize this powerful truth and intuitively transform their prayer requests into prayers of gratitude. A disclaimer here though - expressing gratitude with the intent of attracting objects and experiences of one’s desire makes the overall prayer into a request rather than an expression gratitude!
But genuine gratitude is always fulfilling and rewarding. And that brings me to a beautiful programme that I witnessed on the 17th of February, 2013 in the Sai Kulwant Hall at Puttaparthi, the abode of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. It was the “gratitude programme” put up by the passing out batch of students from the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School. Every year, the students of the passing-out batch of the school communicate with their Lord and Master, Friend and Guide, Bhagawan Baba (whom they address as their beloved ‘Swami’), via this ‘gratitude programme’. The programme is composed of skits, dances, songs and speeches which convey their profound gratitude to Him. Like every other year, this year too, the programme was filled with experiences and insights galore.
17th February 2013
My ears perked up to listen to a tiny voice speak about an experience which occurred about 12 years back. As a child of 4, he had gotten into the habit of offering everything that he received to Swami’s picture at the home altar. Whether it was a chocolate, his kindergarten report card or his sad tears, they would be offered to Swami. The family members of his extended family (other than his parents) made fun of him about this. One day, he received a remote-controlled car as a gift and immediately he removed the packaging and placed the car in the altar. This seemed to be the limit and everyone mocked him. He felt bad and shed a few tears - what else can a child of 4 do? That night, everyone at home was drawn to the altar where the car seemed to be moving on its own accord, flashing lights! The batteries were not inside and still some divine remote seemed to be controlling it. On closer examination, the mocking members of the family found a small idol of Baba in the driver’s seat, ‘driving’ the car in acceptance of the offering!
“From that day dear Bhagawan, I have always felt you in the driving seat of the car of my life. You are my Sanathana Sarathi (Eternal Charioteer)”, he finished to a rousing applause.
The stories then began to flow in rapid succession.
Sreepad remembered the Raksha Bandhan (a Hindu festival day when a sister ties a thread, the Rakhi, to the wrist of a brother as a symbol of the beautiful bond that exists between the two) of 1996. Swami had visited the Primary School hostel and had distributed Rakhis (the sacred threads) to all the girls who had brothers. When Swami gave one Rakhi to Sreepad’s sister, she told Him,
“Swami, I do not have a brother.”
Swami just smiled and told her to accept the Rakhi. It was on December 5th, 1996 that Sreepad was born!
Then, Shanmukha got up and revealed the toughest time in his childhood - when he was diagnosed to be hemoglobin deficient during the medical examination before admission into the school. The doctors told his parents that he would need at least 6 months of intensive care before his hemoglobin levels could reach the desired levels. This definitely meant a wasted year as far as joining Swami’s school was concerned. The faith that he and his parents nurtured in Swami made them decide to abandon all medicines and simply resort to Vibhuti (the holy ash). Within a few weeks, all was well and Shanmukha indeed joined the primary school in 1st grade.
More such miracles were revealed. Raghuram relived the days when he was suffering from a severe throat infection when he was in the hostel studying his 6th grade. Swami had visited the grounds one of the days and He saw Raghuram from His car for a few moments. Though it was a fleeting glance, it was enough to rid him of all difficulty and throat pain!
Bharadwaj was oozing with gratitude as he narrated a chilling, yet thrilling episode. As an 8-year old, he was caught in pouring rain while waiting for a bus to arrive and drop him back home. The downpour was so heavy that the bus was cancelled. Hours passed. The little boy was waiting and the time was almost 10 pm. His father, in the meanwhile, had got worried and had decided to travel to the bus stop on his bike to pick up Bharadwaj. Handing him a raincoat and seating him behind on the bike, the two began to ride home. It was 11pm when they neared home. The bike suddenly skidded and Bharadwaj fell off. He slid and slipped into a big puddle where he held onto a metal wire. As he used the wire like a prop to get up, a stranger rushed out of the darkness. He said,
“Boy! Let go of that wire immediately.”
Bharadwaj obeyed immediately.
“You are lucky. The rains have cut several power lines. What you held just now is a power line. However, 3 minutes ago, there has been a blackout because of which there is no electricity in the lines. Else, you would have been electrocuted.”
Similar was the story of the miraculous escape that Sudhanva’s father had in Nigeria, in the year 2000. He was caught in a cross gunfire. Sliding between the seat of his car, he could hear the whizzing bullets all around. One even hit him, or so he thought. Returning home, he realized that he was totally safe and the ‘hit’ had been taken by a picture of Baba in his wallet!
The programme went on with skits and dances peppering up the narratives. I shall not go into those details for I did not pay attention. I was so lost in the various experiences that had been narrated.
The common factor in all the experiences
As I listened to the experiences, one thing struck me. In none of them had the ‘protagonist’ ever sought or prayed for help. It had been given on its own! The students were now merely expressing their gratitude for all the love, assistance, guidance and strength received. And as stated in the programme, for every experience narrated, there were a dozen that weren’t for want of time! The conclusion of the programme seemed to be:
“Swami! We have nothing to seek from you but the blessing that we love you with all our being. There is nothing that we offer to you but our heartfelt gratitude.”
Ah! If only all the ‘prayer requests’ in the world would become ‘gratitude programmes’, maybe the world would be a happier and fulfilling place to live in. While asking ‘increases’ our discontent, gratitude increases our satisfaction. ‘Asking’ is about perceiving a lack while ‘gratitude’ is about perceiving fulfillment. Gratitude is knowing that God knows better than us and that He will give us perfectly whatever we need. Gratitude is definitely a magnet for happiness.
And if you want proof for this, remember that the proof of the pudding is in eating it. Start today by expressing gratitude sincerely, feeling the various blessings in your life. And experience your life growing more and more beautiful and bountiful.
It is probably this secret that Swami refers to when He sings the Telugu poem:
Adugakuve o Manasa, Adugu Koladi Adi Adugunu Padunani
Adugakunna Pani Vadigaanagunani, Adugani Sabarini Aadarincheade
That translates into
Do not ask, o mind; The more you ask, the lower in the priority list it is placed.
Without asking, the task proceeds quickly. Sabari, who never asked, was showered with untold grace!
The conclusion of the story
Yes! I haven’t forgotten.
The seeker followed the angel and decided to ask one final question...
“To which section does God visit the most?”
“Ah dear man! Why do you ask so?”
“I ask because I wish to see Him and thank Him for so many beautiful things in life. Sometimes, I felt that my prayers were not answered. Today, when I look back, I realize that I have received much more than I asked for. I want to thank God for His wisdom and love; for His delays and apparent denials. Maybe, I shall be one to give you some work finally.”
A smile came over the angel’s face.
“I have received your ‘thanks’ my child for I am God! While I assign my angels to take care of the other two sections, I personally oversee this particular section. It is not because the other sections are unimportant but because I already have done everything that is the best for my children. And it is only those that realize this truth that actually give some work to this section. I love to do that myself.”
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© 2013 Aravind Balasubramanya