Ashram Visit: 2 July 2001

Sai BabaThe hot, gusty wind wraps Swami’s robe around him as he enters the darshan hall. He is dark, again silhouetted against the trees, the light green hedge surrounds the Stupa; the flagpoles and lamp posts at the rear of Poornachandra have all been decorated with bright colours, gold, silver, red, green, and the white uniform of the seva dal; all these provide a brilliant background to Swami as he walks into the shadows of the darshan hall. The hot gusty wind continues to play with his robe as he walks on slowly. Entering the ladies side, here and there, he stops, further on he touches a tray, takes a letter. Moves slowly on, still dark, still silhouetted against the green surrounds of the stupa.


Pillar darshan, back darshan

Last night, after dinner, some people from Canada struck up conversation with me. During our conversation, their son told me that when Swami came out, he would see Swami tower high over the darshan hall and cover everyone within, with his robe.

I told the boy that he was receiving bhava darshan, and that it was a gift. I then told him to go and look in some books and make enquiry into the meaning of this word and this type of darshan. I spelled the word for him. I also told him that he should obtain a little notebook and write down his bhava darshan stories so he could read them when he was at home.

I also suggested that he could also use his stories for a spiritual practice. I explained that Swami told, ‘When you think of New York, your mind and heart go to New York.’ So he could do the same, he could sit down and think of Puttaparthi and he would return here and he could take his darshan again with Swami. I also explained that Swami tells us to take padnamaskar on the inner level. He seemed to like that idea.

This morning I was up the back of the men’s side against the western fence; that meant I would only see Swami for the time he walked through the men’s side of the darshan hall. This was the case. When Swami sat in his chair, there was a big, squat pillar between Swami and myself. If I emulated the “pendulum” man of yesterday, I would just see 1/3rd of Swami sitting in his chair. So I decided to sit, listen and take ‘Seek me in your heart’ darshan. It stayed that way for some 45 minutes. I remained where I was and listened to the music. Men got up and left, I moved forward. Still one big fat pillar. No vision of Sai. I had only moved closer to the pillar. There was a young Indian lad in front of me, he seemed to be in absolute contrast to the men who were monkeying about, up on their haunches, standing, kneeling, pushing forward, and running to the fence to see. He seemed to be setting an example as he simply sat still and listened. I recall thinking, here; this boy is showing you that you have a choice how you may deal with not being able to see anything.

I sat and closed my eyes and focussed on Swami. Instantly, He appeared on my inner screen, with the yellow icon of Sant Kabir behind him. Right there on my inner screen, I could see him sitting, with his head resting on his hand. I saw him pat his lips with the kerchief, as he watched the children. I closed my eyes and enjoyed this for some moments. I was delighted.

More men got up and left. Suddenly, I spied an opportunity. Some men had vacated the space on my left. I moved over, goodbye pillar, I was able to watch the cultural program and observe Swami. So I took outer darshan again, delighting in the display of the children of Maharashtra.

After darshan I went for a walk down Samadhi Road and visited the Samadhi of Swami’s parents. It is a sandy enclosure with little children playing in the sand. A one year old boy was pulling a trolley with his father’s help. He was squealing with delight. There is a most charming little Ganesh Shrine in the Samadhi enclosure. Off to the left is a small lean-to with a fence where two cows were contentedly munching hay. The Samadhi surrounds are a lovely oasis of timelessness, with a wonderful, green garden and many different trees. It seemed to suggest the silence and the bliss Swami’s parents enjoy.

 

Samadhi of Parents of Sathya Sai
Samadhi of Parents of Sathya Sai

The Samadhi itself is two adjacent tombs covered by granite slabs, with attractively garlanded pictures of Swami’s father, Pedda Venkamma Raju and his mother, Easwaramma, hanging on the struts above each slab. When Swami’s father died, he spoke of the unique fortune and privilege to be father of an avatar; it happens only once in any Yuga. There were oil lamps burning on each tomb and garlands were draped over the slab ends. An ochre clad pujari played with a little boy, and then opened the gate to check the oil lamps.

The Samadhi has an otherworldly peace surrounding it – it is such a simple place.

 

burial site of parents of Sathya Sai
Tombs of the parents of Sathya Sai

Further down Samadhi Road, I exclaimed, “Oh, Holy!” The road has been concreted (I still have the trousers I ruined walking through the sludge down there when it rained). I see two lime juice vendors, teachers moving in and out of their accommodation, and dhobis plying their trade and ironing in the street. I pass the Orphanage, where some happy children run in and out. Once upon a time an old friend warned me Puttaparthi was full of high-rise. If you proceed down Samadhi Road, Cross 1 or Cross 2, there are more high rise down those streets than, perhaps, New York might have, I thought to myself. I did not recognise it. My memories were of living in these streets for two years – memories of walking in mud and little rivers when it rained returned as I gazed down the concreted walkway.

In the afternoon, I went to the ashram early. I walked around the Navagrahas (shrine to the nine planets) just inside the front gate to reach the men’s lines and saw a crowd of Indians looking at something on the ground. As I walked past, I saw a tiny, baby snake and glanced at the transfixed devotees. I smiled, and I acknowledged to myself that snakes are a serious business in India. A couple of paces on, I heard ooh, ahh, and I saw people jump.

Still only one line to go in. I walked up to the top of the hill and the line began to move into the hall almost immediately. I am early; I take a seat on the side with my back to East Prashanthi. The man in front of me is sitting in one of these canvas seats with a back and he is making heavy weather of it. He keeps shifting and moving, and his back is not straight. I feel some compassion for him, he has two cushions in that canvas seat and he is still finding it hard going. I cricked my back slightly this morning, so I also have a nagging pinch in the back. It is hard to keep a focus when your feet pinch or fall asleep, or your back is throbbing or aching.

‘Show me how to do this … seek me in your heart thingy, I asked on the inner level. ‘Don’t do anything, just watch’, came the answer. So I looked inside and I saw a step by step creation of Swami’s image take place. First, the hair, just a sense of ears, his forehead, eyebrows, all appeared one after the other. Then his eyes, his cheeks, nose, lips, jaw, and neck all appeared. I breathed slowly, refreshing the image from time to time. When I opened my eyes again, it was bright, Swami’ chair had been brought out and placed in the front of the porch. Students from Brindavan came, and shortly after, the primary school children filed in to sit in front of the Anantapur ladies.

Puttaparthi students arrive; space is crammed as students mill around finding somewhere to sit at front and beside the Brindavan students. Up by the water fountain beside the mandir, many students are taking a drink. It has grown appreciably hotter in the last three days. Right now, a hot gusty wind whips through the darshan hall making all the lanterns and decorations sway. More students take a drink. A continual stream of devotees go the other way, toward THEIR water fountain at the back of the darshan hall. Hot, hot hot, I watch the ladies in the distance fan themselves. Pink fans, white fans, blue and red fans, plenty of fans moving in the shade of the darshan hall. It does actually warm up even more when all those bodies are breathing and slowly being compressed by super-efficient-seva-dal.

False start. Seva dals line up, Police Inspector puts his cap on and stands to attention. Obviously the door at the back of Poornachandra has opened and Swami has appeared briefly, as the lady seva dal scattered away. Swami goes back into Poornachandra and emerges again at 3pm.

The hot, gusty wind wraps Swami’s robe around him as he enters the darshan hall. He is dark, again silhouetted against the trees, the light green hedge surrounds the Stupa; the flagpoles and lamp posts at the rear of Poornachandra have all been decorated with bright colours, gold, silver, red, green, and the white uniform of the seva dal; all these provide a brilliant background to Swami as he walks into the shadows of the darshan hall. The hot gusty wind continues to play with his robe as he walks on slowly. Entering the ladies side, here and there, he stops, further on he touches a tray, takes a letter. Moves slowly on, still dark, still silhouetted against the green surrounds of the stupa.

I begin to become amused. Still hanging from the ceiling are the ‘clouds’ from this morning’s cultural program. A blue cloud dangling from the ceiling near the gate leading down to the Gopuram reads ‘Bend the body, mend the senses, end the mind’. Oh, so salutary, I mused. As Swami walks toward me, the pink ‘cloud’ is partly obscured by another cloud, so Swami is walking toward me under a cloud that reads ‘I am not different from God’. I take quite some mirth and amusement observing Swami walk under my ‘obscured’ clouds.

Finally, Swami crosses under the translucent canopy and light descends on his form. The carpet separates the throng of students. Students rise to their knees, maybe five or six in a bunch with earnest faces, you can see they have asked him something; Swami moves slowly as the students expectantly watch his back. Swami moves ever-so-slowly through the white expanse of students, leaving those on their knees to sit down as Swami approaches the expectant male devotees. Stops and speaks with men. Light streams in from East Prashanti onto his form. He moves slowly with measured steps, taking many more letters. Stops, lifts his hand, palm up, his thumb touches each finger tip; then He turns his hand over and makes that familiar circling motion with his finger. Is he giving our energy a bit of a wind up? Grace, by any other word.

 

glance of Sathya Sai

 

I concentrate on his appearance, contrasting it with my earlier meditation. His hair is thinner at the edge; his eyebrows are more sharply arched. His robe drapes around his body just so, and he grasps the folds on one side of the robe and walks slowly. Moves along the red carpet toward the garage. Swami crosses several times to take letters. A man rises and moves quickly with a child in his arms; a seva dal moves to restrain him, but Swami leans over and taps the child on the head. The man smiles, bows in pranaams to Swami and returns to his seat, utterly grateful.

As Swami passes me his back becomes conspicuous. Back darshan, I have heard women complain about it: “All we see of Swami is his back, weeks and weeks of back darshan!” Well, I wouldn’t complain. As I watch Swami walk, I think about back darshan, I think about the seeds of grace and transformation Swami is sending to people in darshan. I wonder why Swami’s back and shoulders seem to stand out; this is the second or third day this has come to my attention. Perhaps it is a sense of vulnerability.

When Swami was little, and known as Raju, Kamalamma and Subbamma used to put a dhoti on him (he only had one pant and shirt) and pick him up and stand him on a table for seekers to come in and take his darshan. Otherwise he would have been dwarfed and not seen by the sadhakas, devotees and the curious. This would also happen in Bangalore, circa 1943.

Kamalamma, who has known Swami ever since he was 5 years old, told one day, ‘After the bath, He stands as a very young boy, with a towel around His waist. He keeps a Shirdi Baba photo and breaks open the coconuts we carried there for the worship offering. Then He says, “I am not a ghost. I am Shirdi Baba. I want to join this boy (enter the body of Sathyanarayana). I trouble this body in numerous ways, to settle down.”

Kamalamma has revealed a secret; Swami’s body had to change and transform as the Supreme Absolute ‘emerged’ or ‘manifested’ within him. This was quite a painful process, and an extremely bewildering and distressing process for those fortunate to be around him in those days; to observe and aid Swami as these periods ‘descended’ upon him. Perhaps observing Swami’s back as he walks up the red carpet recalls that human/divine vulnerability, and reveals a glimpse beyond the mayashakti (the energy driving that illusion of maya which surrounds Swami), making myself and everyone else see the crown of hair, the ochre robe, and the slow measured steps. Perhaps that divine union of Shiva-Shakti and human form become apparent. It is difficult to express what emerges as this sense of vulnerability. He also suffers.

All alone now, Swami moves onto the front of the porch. Holds his robe and walks slowly. Stops and faces the primary school students, and lifts his hand, palm upwards, uplifting them with his love. Walks further on toward the women, and he repeats this palm upwards action. Swami’s chair is out on the front of the porch. White handkerchiefs at the ready, table and tumbler beside. Will he come, will he give discourse?

No, into the interview room alone to read the letters.

 

darshan of Sai Baba

 

 

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