Why Pray or Write Letters to an Omniscient God? a Revelation by Sathya Sai
Does God/Guru need our prayers/letters?
Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba or Swami has been adored and worshipped as Guru and God by millions. I consider it my singular good fortune that I came to know Him quite early in childhood and accepted Him as my Guru and God. In fact He became my family deity through a bizarre yet profound episode in my uncle's life.
Among the several unique practices that are observed by Swami's devotees, one is the letters they write to Him. Writing letters to Swami was a very common practice among the devotees. They would pour out their hearts - their joys, their sorrows, their problems and their gratitude - on this piece of paper and hand it over to Swami during His Darshan rounds, when He walked amidst the devotees in the morning and evening. Darshan literally means “sight of the holy one” and all of us devotees believe that just being in the presence of and seeing Swami is uplifting and spiritually beneficial and thus the special term, Darshan. Before His physical departure from the world, Swami would Himself collect these letters 'randomly' from the devotees. It is considered a stroke of great fortune if one is able to personally give a letter to Him.
But the question that arises is that if the Guru is aware of everything, why does He need our letters? And now that He is no longer present in the physical, does it make sense to even write letters to Him any more?
The experience of Amey Deshpande, an alumnus of the MBA programme at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, is revealing and insightful in this regard.
The annual letter-writing program
Amey had a unique letter-writing practice. He would write a letter to his Swami only once every year - on his birthday, the 23rd December. He felt and knew that there is nothing that Swami is unaware of. He would remind himself thus and refrain from writing any letters to Swami. However, it was his sentiment to write that single letter annually on his birthday and try to offer it to Swami. That apart, he also gave Swami a very short opportunity window to accept that letter - only one darshan session. If Swami did not accept the letter during that session, unlike most of the others, he would not carry the same letter the next day. He would simply tear it up and throw it in the dustbin with the feeling -
“Swami knows everything anyway”!
It was this that happened on his birthday in 2007. Swami did not accept the letter and at the end of the day, it made its way to the dustbin having been shredded into bits by its author!
A talk that changed the letter-writing program
That same night, as Amey settled down for his studies in the hostel, he got a call over the intercom from one of his classmates seeking some academic clarification. Unable to clear the doubt on the phone, he decided to go up to his room and help him out. On the way, he heard one of the teachers, Dr. M Sainath, sharing a personal experience with a few students in the corridor. While passing by the ‘all-ears’ group, his ears caught a statement that made him to a part of that interested listening group. That sentence was,
“So, the question is, should we write letters to Swami when he knows everything?”
The teacher continued to share an experience with Swami during the days when he had just completed his postgraduate studies - times when he shared the privilege of staying with Swami along with a few others as “His attendant”. For us devotees, we know that as ‘attendants’ we help Swami in no way but get the unique privilege and opportunity to observe the Avatar from close quarters and learn from His life. The teacher was reminiscing happy about one such enlightening episode.
The teacher’s narrative
“During those days, we spent the whole day staying at the Old Boys hostel, thinking of Swami and spending time with Him. Every night, we would have satsangh. One night, before we could sleep, there was a discussion which turned into a sort of debate. The discussion was on why one writes letters to Swami. It automatically led to the discussion on what Swami does with all the letters He receives. Though He is Divine, He has come with a physical body which imposes the limitation of time on Him too. Therefore, I said, that there was no way He could be reading all the letters He received. Others had different thoughts. There was no end to this debate and the final moderator that night was Nidra Devi, the goddess of sleep, into whose arms we drifted.
The next morning, Swami had completed blessing a group of devotees and had collected a large number of letters. I had been tasked to distribute photos and vibhuti to the devotees which I completed and entered the interview room to keep back the remaining ones. Once I completed my task, I saw that the door of the interview room was closed which meant that Swami wanted me to remain. Thus, I was standing in Swami’s room and Swami was seated on the chair, sifting through the huge pile of letters that He had received from the devotees. I saw something very strange. Swami would just look at a letter and discard it into the dustbin. He would open some, no doubt, but such letters were very few in number. Most of them went into the dustbin even without Him opening them. That stunned me and I thought,
"I was right in what I said last night. There is no way Swami has time to read all the letters. I was right all along."
I thought I would definitely report this to the other boy and prove my point. Even as these thoughts filled my head, Swami looked at me and asked,
“Ay! What are you thinking? Doubts”
OMG! I was caught. A chill ran down my spine. He knew!
“Nothing Swami... just seeing You”, I answered.
“Come here.” The voice was very loving yet firm. "Never ever lie to your Guru okay?"
That was a powerful reminder that no thought escapes His notice and also a lesson in being truthful to one self for the Guru is nothing but one's Self.
So, I knelt before Him and told Him all that had occurred the previous night. “Why are you scared about your doubt. If it arises from the genuine interest to learn, I welcome doubts."
He called me close and told me to pick a letter from the huge bundle that had been piled up in front of Him. He then told me to walk back to my place, open the sealed envelope and to read the contents of the letter by myself.
"But Swami, this is addressed to You..."
"I am only telling you... You read it.
As I completed reading the letter, He looked up from the letter He was reading and said,
“That is a letter from Mukhopadhyay from Calcutta. What does that Bengali Babu say? His son was very sick last year with brain cancer. He had come here to seek my blessings. I gave him vibhuti to apply for the son. Today he is fine and he is going to school. Mukhopadhyay is expressing his gratitude...”
I could not have summarized the letter better! I ran and fell at His feet. Swami smiled.
It was on another occasion that Swami gave an explanation for the experience too in answer to why we should write letters to Him. He said,
"It is in answer to your (all the devotees’) prayers that I have descended in this form, else I have the capability to answer you even from above right? You wanted to enjoy the joy of interacting with the Lord. Now that you have got it, you should not cease your efforts”
I then realized my folly. When I write a letter to Swami, it is not for His sake but my own. I am seeing it wrong when I think why Swami needs my letter. It is not Swami who needs my letter. It is I who need my letter to Swami! And it is for our need that Swami accepts letters and prayers - not His! He needs no inputs from us - He knows everything. I will continue to write letters to Him forever because it benefits me immensely to put things down on paper and to get in touch with Swami via that action.
After Swami told that to me and lovingly patted on my head, I went back to my place and continued to stand there. He continued sifting through the letters, throwing most of them straight into the dustbin, reading a few here and there. My heart was totally changed now. Instead of wondering why He was not reading so many letters, I was now wondering why He needed to read even a few! And I got the same answer - He did not need to read them; we needed it.
Nothing the Sadguru does is for His benefit!
The first hand narrative by Dr. Sainath
Inspiration for another letter
Hearing this narrative, Amey forgot the task at hand - clearing doubts of his classmate. Some of his doubts had just cleared and he was struck with an inspiration. He decided to immediately act upon that inspiration.
Drawing tremendous inspiration from the experience of his teacher, Amey went back to his room and decided to resurrect his torn letter. No! He did not take the pieces of paper from the dustbin and glue them together. Instead, he re-wrote the same letter. It was an easy task because every year he wrote, more or less, the same lines. Thus, within minutes, pen came in contact with paper and the letter poured out from his heart.
Most beloved Master,
I offer myself at your lotus feet dear Bhagawan. You brought me into this world to figure out the puzzle of life. You have become my master who is going to take me out too.
Let me understand that you are the divine wirepuller of my life. Let me love you more and more each moment.
Please become the thinker of my thoughts.
Please become the doer of my deeds.
Please become the speaker of my words.
Guide me. Guard me. Protect me.
You are me and I am you.
Let me realize that O Lord.
Bless me this day.
Your loving son and student
Having written this letter, he decided to offer it to Swami the next day itself.
A long journey for a little letter
But Swami’s plans seemed to be different. Forget being able to give the letter the next day, for weeks after that also, the letter was not accepted. But Amey’s inspiration was not one to die down. It had slowly transformed and grown into Shraddha and Saburi, faith and patience - the two favorite qualities that God looks for in the devotee.
The piece of paper got yellowed with age (and the sweat from Amey’s palms). But that did not stop him from holding it in offering to Swami on a daily basis for about 2-3 hours during the darshan and extended darshan sessions. But when the paper got too yellowed and frayed, he would tear it up and re-write the same on a fresh paper! The letter too seemed to go through the cycle of birth and death till it met its ultimate objective of reaching God!
Three months passed this way and the letter was still with Amey.
The letter that Amey wrote to Swami
March 13th, 2008 - the landmark day
It was like any other day. Amey sat in the bhajan hall with the other members of the bhajan group. He was still holding his letter, the 4th ‘reprint’ of the letter actually! He was in the fifth line and Swami had walked into the bhajan hall about fifteen minutes before the bhajans had actually begun. He was interacting with a few students and teachers in the front.
All of a sudden, Swami looked at Amey and asked,
“Boy, how is your father?”
Having got used to being ‘neglected’ for months now, Amey was not sure that Swami was talking to him. He sat in his place. Swami repeated,
“How is father?”
Now he was sure that Swami was talking to him. He pondered on the meaning of what He was saying. He felt that it was either one of these cases:
1. Swami had seen him holding the letter for so long and therefore was ‘thinking’ that maybe his father is ill.
2. His father was ill and Swami was indicating this to him.
However, instead of getting lost in thoughts, he immediately got up from his place and went up to Swami who was seated on the chair in the bhajan hall. Swami instantly accepted his letter. He asked him again,
“How is father?”
“Swami, you know... (I have no idea)!”
Swami waved His hand and materialized vibhuti and gave it to Amey.
“Send this to your father.”
Amey was immediately at ease. He knew that he didn’t have to worry about his father any more. Whatever be the problem, Swami had already taken care of it.
God knows everything - And that is why He encourages to write letters!
Swami now opened the letter and began to read through it. He read each line of the letter and began nodding His head as if He was listening to Amey speaking. Amey too, on his part, began to mentally speak out the letter for he knew the whole content by heart.
Swami suddenly seemed to stop at one particular point. Amey, who was mentally reading out the letter, too stopped. The statement was,
You are me and I am you.
Swami now turned the letter towards Amey. He underlined that statement with His finger. He said,
“Treasure and foster this feeling and Truth in your heart. That is enough”.
He then patted Amey and sent him back to his place among the students in the Bhajan group. He put back the letter into his pocket for him to cherish as a souvenir of this beautiful lesson. (That is the letter presented in the picture above.) Soon the bhajans began and Amey just could not help but feel the overwhelming love of Swami. He just did not understand why he felt so, but he simply felt it. No wonder that there seemed some added divine melody in the bhajan he sang that day.
The highlighted line...
It is definitely true that God has no need of our communication. But there is something magical in writing a letter to God. During that act, we achieve the rare unity in thought, word and deed! Our thoughts for and of God, get translated into words for and of God resulting in our act of writing the letter for God! Through this simple act of writing Swami a letter, we are achieving what the sages and saints of yore strived to - trikarna shuddhi or the unity and purity of thought word and deed.
“Manas ekam Vachas ekam Karmanyekam Mahatmanam” ( A great soul is one who has unity and purity in thought word and deed.)
And that is why God has always encouraged the devotee to engage in some sort of communication/prayer/dialogue with Him/Her. This was the reason why the Lord Maha Vishnu asked Dhruva to state the desire in his heart though he knew his thoughts and feelings even as they arose! And so, even today, when the Guru/God is not in our midst in a human form, it is still highly beneficial to write letters to Him and offer the letters in our own altars at home or simply the altar of our hearts.
On a parting note, one has to accept the ultimate reality that God is everywhere and at all times. One does not need to seek Him in a separate form. But until one reaches that level of oneness with Him, one should seek. And that is because even such seeking takes one closer to realizing the ultimate reality as it happened in Amey’s case. He sought the form no doubt, but that endeavor resulted in boosting the message that he must realize his oneness with God!
Writing letters to God, going to a religious place, praying and the like are all media to reach the Reality. They help us achieve our ultimate objective like tools help in completing a project. They are like ladders that one uses to scale a wall. Having scaled the wall, there is no need for the ladder. However, it would be foolish to kick the ladder away before scaling the wall, or worse, while one is climbing the wall!
Swami exhorts the same in many discourses in multiple ways.
The battery of your "car" is charged when you come to Puttaparthi, or at least when you go to some other holy place. Charge the battery of your spiritual discipline (sadhana) and then, after you return home, do not keep the car idle. If you do, the battery will run down. Take the car around and keep it going; then the battery will charge itself. So also, if you do not continue the company of the good, engagement in truth, devotional singing, and repetition of the name, then all this charging becomes a waste.
Sathya Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Speaks I, 26, 159.
Another thought struck me. There is a lot of benefit in synergy. That is why team work is always emphasized in corporate offices, schools, sports etc. In spiritual endeavors too, Swami has always encouraged group activity and satsangh.
In that light, pilgrimage places like Prasanthi Nilayam (Puttaparthi) are hubs of intense devotion, service and spirituality. An aspirant will greatly benefit from the helpful atmosphere created by the synergy with fellow aspirants. Now that is something to be experienced.
As Bhagawan Baba would often say,
"Come, see for yourself, experience and then have faith."
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© 2013 Aravind Balasubramanya