The revelation of Divinity that took place on the 20th of October 1940 is well-known to many in the Sai fold. When Sathya Narayana Raju, at the age of fourteen declared, “I am no longer your Sathya; I am Sai,” it was a historic moment for humanity. Thus began our beloved Lord, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s mission that has spread beyond the village of Puttaparthi, across not only India but throughout the world. That mission has taken myriad forms. Thousands have received free world class education, medical services and pure drinking water all over the world. The lives of thousands of children and young adults in so many countries have been transformed through the various education programmes – be they Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) classes, Sathya Sai Education in Human Values programmes or Sathya Sai schools.
While I am astounded by these reports of wonderful activities inspired by His pure divine love, sometimes, I find that in the rush of attending bhajan and carrying out service, I forget the intent of Swami’s advent. The Avatar Declaration Day is a good opportunity to reflect on Swami’s words on that eventful day, when He declared to His bewildered family and neighbours, “I have My work. My devotees are calling Me. I am going. I can no longer stay here.”
What was that Work that Swami had to urgently attend to? Who were those devotees who were calling to Him?
In a discourse on 25th November 1961, Swami described His unique purpose as Avatar with a beautiful analogy.
“The Avatars that have come and gone have all cut down trees because they were white-ant infested, but this Avatar is different and unique. Now, the white ants are removed, the tree is saved, protected, fostered, and encouraged to grow. I am not inclined to punish; I am the goldsmith who repairs and reshapes broken ornaments.”
(Divine Discourse, 25th October 1961)
This explanation leaves me in no doubt as to what His Work is. We are His work; we are why He came. Each one of us has called out to Him and so He has come to protect, foster and encourage us to grow.
At the age of nineteen, when I began to question why we needed to pray and the purpose of visiting a temple, a yearning grew in me for a spiritual teacher, like Jesus Christ, to teach me the answers to my questions and to simplify seemingly contradictory (sometimes illogical!) explanations of God. I had tried reading books from the library about Hinduism and gave up trying to understand the complex discussions and explanations. I remember vividly the yearning for a human God who would just tell me what I needed to do and whom I could love wholeheartedly.
About two or three years later my sister brought home a book someone had given to her – Divine Memories of Sathya Sai Baba by Diana Baskin. The blue cover caught my eye as it lay on a book shelf and out of curiosity I picked it up and began to read it. The effect of that book was profound even though I did not realise it at that point in time. I remember casually telling a friend sometime later after reading the book, that I would place Sathya Sai Baba as my second most important being in my life.
Interestingly enough, the series of events that took place after that comment made sure He became the top most priority of my life. They marked the beginning of my journey with Swami and the beginning of the realisation that I am blessed with not only the guidance of the guru that I had yearned for but also the compassionate and ever-loving Divine Mother and Father whose unconditional love gave me the courage to soldier on through some of my most challenging times.
The series of events that toppled my list of priorities, led me to a Sathya Sai Centre. Hurting deeply from a personal loss, I accompanied a friend to help in some seva activities in a Hindu Temple, undertaken by the Sathya Sai Centre. As I cut vegetables (especially onions which gave me the chance to cry without being noticed!) for the temple prasadam, washed the temple sanctum after the evening prayers and carried sound equipment down four flights of stairs to set up for Sai bhajan and, later, again four flights, after bhajan, Swami drew me further into His fold. Each activity I undertook inspired me to forget my grief and focus on putting my energy to better use.
The sisters in the centre shared with me books of Swami that they were reading. They invited me to join the SSE classes as a teacher, though I was a newcomer. Now when I look back at this period of time, I realise with gratitude how my Divine Mother has been with me every step of the way. The first group of children that I taught were 5 and 6-year-olds. The joyous group hugs that were part of every class were most healing and, of course, Swami knew I needed the healing. The children inspired the teachers to be creative, for example, in finding positive ways to ensure children sat in their places in class (we hit upon the idea of using a place mat for each child) or producing little skits that the children could role play to learn to love Mother Nature (the teachers acted as the trees that the children hugged tightly). Each seva I took part in, SSE class I taught or bhajan I attended was part of my Divine guru’s carefully drawn up lesson plans for me.
Everyone’s journey to God is different and yet all journeys seem very similar. They are never straight roads; bumps and jumps, as Swami calls them, are inevitable. As I began to get more deeply involved in the Sai Centre activities, Swami began His work of re-shaping. By then, I was teaching SSE at the secondary level and the Group Three Girls (as they were called), took charge of various projects, one of them being a Ceiling on Desires (COD) Campaign for the Centre. As the girls worked to put together a campaign, working in groups to take care of various areas like the planning and publicity (coming up with catchy phrases like COD for GOD!), being one of their teachers, I had to put COD into practice in my own life. How could I, as a teacher encourage my students, if I didn’t try alongside them? How would I be able to teach my girls how to cut down on desires if I didn’t, first of all, learn how to reduce some of my own?
I used to think that Swami would give me the answers or solutions to all my questions or problems but I found that after the initial excitement and exhilaration of ‘finding’ my guru, He did not always provide me with answers or solutions. I would argue and fight with Swami when I thought about problems that troubled me. They ranged from my insecurities or worries about my work or family to my antagonism regarding an issue or a person. I would write long letters to Swami asking Him again and again - What should I do? What is the right thing to do? Why aren’t you telling me, Swami? I used to hope that He would come in a dream and instruct me as He seemed to do for so many others. But it never happened that way, at least not in the way I expected Him to. He left me to ponder and contemplate, to discuss with friends and to learn from trial and error. What I didn’t realise then was that He was nurturing my conscience so that I could start hearing Him within.
As I reflect on this journey with Swami, I am filled with gratitude for His constant presence and guidance. At the same time, I cannot help but smile when I think what conceit it is to say that the Lord came because I called out to Him. But it is true, He has come!