Aravind Balasubramanya has spent more than 2 decades with Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He has studied under Baba and been His photographer.
The middle path
There is something beautiful and charming about the ‘middle path’. In any situation which demands taking a decision based on some unknowns, we choose the ‘average’ route or the ‘middle path’.
Say someone asks you,
“Are you ever-steady in your faith in God?”
Any person wanting to answer this in complete honesty would usually answer,
“I guess so” , “Maybe, it is steady”
“I guess not”, “I think I falter sometimes”.
Choosing a midway answer is so much more easier than a “black & white” answer like “Yes” or “No”.
Forget about the jest, the profundity of the middle path was wonderfully discovered by Lord Buddha. He described it as the easiest and surest pathway to liberation; a path that is characterised by moderation between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. Today, that is famous as the ‘Golden Mean’.
Centuries ago, Lord Krishna too emphasized on this ‘middle path’ while conferring the Bhagwad Gita to Arjuna. (He did not use that term though!) He used the term, “Stithaprajna” or one of equipoise. Krishna explained to Arjuna that a Sthitaprajna has an even mind, which is neither elated by joy nor dejected by sorrow. The Sthitaprajna dwells always in the Spirit without giving way to grief, lust, fear and delusion. His vision beholds the Spirit everywhere. Krishna pointed out that Arjuna would be able to realize His true nature (or gain liberation) only when he becomes a Sthitaprajna.
In this regard, Swami says that while Self-Confidence is necessary, pride and show are bad. Similarly, while humility is necessary, self-condemnation and degrading oneself are bad. Self-Confidence and Humility are not opposites but an inseparable pair - the middle path. And my experience with Bhagawan Baba was based on this.
This brief introduction was necessary to enjoy the chiseling that Swami (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba) performed to mould a more complete personality.
The decision to stay in the hostel during vacations
When I finally got a chance to be a student in the Sri Sathya Sai Higher Secondary School, I was very thrilled and excited. Here was my chance to be and stay with Swami, studying in a school that He had started! In the first few weeks itself, I got the chance to experience His omnipresence and love. Those experiences made me thirst more and more for His physical proximity and for chances to interact with Him.
I made a plan which I felt was a foolproof way of winning His grace. Swami has always emphasized the Vedic dictum
“Na Karmana Na Prajaya Dhanena Thyagenaike Amrutatwa Manashuhu.”
“Neither action, progeny or wealth will confer immortality. Only sacrifice confers immortality.”
And people have often made sacrifices to please God - fasting, abstaining from indulgence in desires, giving up things etc. (In fact, Swami has pointed out that instead of sacrificing ‘animal qualities’ for God, people change it conveniently and carry out animal sacrifice which is a terrible sin!) I too decided to sacrifice something very dear to me to please my God - Swami!
I thought that when the winter vacation arrived (20th - 31st October, 1998), I would stay back and not go home. I would sacrifice my vacation as an offering for Him. I knew in a corner of my heart that Swami would be pleased and would respond to my ‘sacrifice’.
Before I move on, I must make a point about ‘sacrifice’ here. When one decides to sacrifice, it means one is giving up something that one loves for the sake of something that one loves greater! Swami often jokes about a situation where a person goes on pilgrimage. As is customary, one has to give up something for God. He prays,
“Lord, from this day, I give up eating bitter gourd.”
Swami laughs as he says,
““You don't like it anyway, so that is not sacrifice!”
The vacation and spending time at home with my parents was definitely very dear to me. And so, I was convinced that it was indeed a sacrifice I was making for something I loved more - i.e. Swami’s physical interaction.
The holidays began on the 20th of October (1998) and were to last for about 10 days. By the end of the first day itself, the school hostel was almost empty. There might have been only about 30 students staying back - less than 10% of our total hostel strength. Among the 30 too, about 15 of the students had stayed back because their homes were very far off and the time required to travel itself was about 3-4 days, to and fro.
I felt quite lonely on the first day as I returned to the hostel in the evening after darshan. The wonderful teachers spoke to us and enthused us often.
“You are all very special. Everyone stays for Swami when school is on. You have shown that Swami is extra special for you. You too are extra special for Swami.”
These words encouraged and and pumped back enthusiasm into me.
It turned out to be an interesting and fun vacation. We had a couple of picnics to the Chitravati riverbanks. We played a lot and had daily darshans. Most importantly, we got a chance to serve at an eye camp held in Kothacheruvu. The alumni of the Institute had organized an eye camp wherein they operated upon dozens of patients for cataracts, free of cost. Since all of the recipients came from very poor families, they did not have the knowledge nor inclination to take post-operative care. We schoolboys got the opportunity to stay with these patients for 2 days, taking care of their needs till the bandages on the eye came off.
All these happened, but I never got any special ‘physical interaction’ with Swami. However, deep within, I knew that for all the sacrifices and service that I had done, Swami would definitely reward me. That faith is very important. We may not know how we will be rewarded but we should have faith that no good which we do will ever go without the eternal witness noticing!
A pleasant bolt from the blue
The reward came - on the 28th of October to be exact. And it happened in a manner that I never imagined.
It felt like another normal day in Prasanthi Nilayam. (Today, I realize that no day in the Divine presence is ever normal!) Swami completed His darshan rounds and called a large group of devotees from some district of Andhra Pradesh for a group interview inside the bhajan hall. It was a group of about 75 ladies and 75 gents. The doors and windows of the bhajan hall were closed and it was a completely private session for the blessed group.
I was among the hundred or so students (from the school and Institute) waiting for the interview to finish. After about half an hour, the interview was over and the devotees began to file out of the bhajan hall. One person from the line walked up to me and told me, pointing to my Nikon camera,
“Can you come and take a photo of our group?”
I was hesitating. I did not know who this person was. I did not know what I should answer him. He continued,
“Swami said that you should take the photo.”
I was surprised. I nodded. I had a Nikon F90 film camera and I got up with it. The man was happy and he rushed back to the group. The members who had come out of the bhajan hall had formed a small group on the gents’ side of the Sai Kulwant hall. I began to walk towards the group. I thought that I would take a couple of quick shots and then rush into bhajan hall for a good place to sit during bhajans.
As I was walking towards the group, a sudden hush fell in the entire hall. From a state of randomness and entropy, the hall returned to perfect order. I was taken aback at this sudden silence and turned around. Within a few feet from me was Swami! And He was walking straight towards me!
This was totally unexpected - as unexpected as that person’s request to take a photo. I wondered what Swami would tell me for ‘loitering’ in the hall with a camera. This was a bonus ‘darshan’ session which nobody had even dreamed of. So, I simply sat down wherever I was. Swami passed by me without making any comment or even seeing me. I was relieved.
The surprises kept coming. Swami went towards this group (which had seated by now) and told them that He too would stand in the group photograph! The members were simply thrilled. I too was thrilled at this turn of events. I had imagined shooting a picture of a group of men in white. The orange figure in the center changed everything! As Swami stood with the group, I clicked a couple of pictures. Then, I quickly sat down in my place. I was feeling very special for having got this opportunity to be His photographer but I was also nervous because Swami had not called me directly.
As Swami was returning and passing by me, He asked,
I was still in school. But I simply nodded,
“Yes Swami.” (I completed my Bachelors and Masters degrees in His college, but that is a different story.)
He then told me,
“Go to the ladies’ side.”
“He must be joking”, I thought. I got up and began to walk behind Him. He again turned around and said,
“Go to the ladies’ side.”
I was quite confused and so I walked to th interview room and stood outside there. I thought as Swami returned to the interview room, I would ask Him what He really meant by that message.
Move to the concluding part of the story here:
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poornimasrinath from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA on September 12, 2012:
Haha..now you have made us wait just like swami did for you? !!! Do you know brain of women is wired unlike the one of men which has a separate box for everything. This wired brain may end up in short circuit if you don't post the next part soon!
So when Swami pretends like He doesnot look at us or pay attention to us does it mean that He is giving extra attention to us? This post seems like the most suspense filled one of all.
Shruti on September 11, 2012: