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  Volume 3 - Issue 12
DECEMBER 2005
 
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THE FAMILY OF HUMANITY

By Dr. Sara Pavan

This is a true story of the experience and practice of Baba’s Message – “There is only one caste – the caste of Humanity”  through love and service at the Wayside chapel in Sydney, Australia.

"Haven’t you gone yet?” asked Swami, as He materialised Vibhuti and poured it into my hands at Darshan when we visited Prasanthi Nilayam in December, 1984. Nonplussed, I couldn’t respond to Swami’s enquiry and the Lord continued gliding onwards, leaving His footprints on the golden sand. I couldn’t solve the riddle until I read a letter from Rev. Ted Noffs that was awaiting our return from India. Only then I realised what Swami had meant when He asked me that question and I inferred that Swami wanted me to meet up with Rev. Ted Noffs.

In that letter Rev. Noffs invited me to participate in the 21st anniversary celebration of the founding of the Wayside Chapel. Swami says, “It is good to be born in a church, but it would be sad if you die in the same church!” He also stresses the need for expansion. In His 60th Birthday Message Bhagavan asked: “What is this ‘Sai Family’ you are claiming about?” He declared, “The whole world is One Family.” He emphasised the importance of the ‘Integration of the World Community.’

In an interview in December 1982 Swami had blessed me to start publishing a quarterly Sai Newsletter for Australia. By 1984 we had several hundreds of subscribers from all around the country. In October 1984 I received a letter from Elvie B., a subscriber from a remote farming countryside in Queensland. I did not pay much attention to what she had written in her letter because I receive letters from many devotees about their experiences of Baba. In her letter Elvie claimed that Swami ‘stood in front of her’ during meditation and commanded her to write to me, that I should meet Rev. Ted Noffs, the pastor of the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, Sydney, in whom I would find a true spiritual friend, who cares and serves humanity beyond human barriers.

Until then I hadn’t heard of the Wayside Chapel of Kings Cross or Rev. Ted Noffs. All I knew about the Cross was that it was a dangerous area in the city and the hub of all kinds of vice and crime. I had no interest whatsoever to go to Kings Cross and even felt why I, a Hindu by birth, should be associated with a Church! Around this time I happened to receive a parcel of books - Embodiment of Love and Eastern View of Jesus Christ and Christianity - from Peggy Mason, then the editor and publisher of the Sai Newsletter of U.K. and wife of Ron Laing, who was the first president of the Sathya Sai Council of U.K. In my enthusiasm to share Bhagavan’s Love with broadminded people like Rev. Ted Noffs, I posted a copy of these two books to him before leaving for India to spend Christmas with Swami.

Having enshrined Swami in my heart, since 1980 I had spent most of my spare time doing my best to serve in His Divine Mission. Now, five years later, Bhagavan opens another window in my life for spiritual expansion – to understudy Rev. Ted Noffs and experience spirituality in action! Did Bhagavan have a plan thus, in exposing me to the concept of the “Family of Humanity” and expand my spiritual horizon through personal experience? At this point let me outline the background of Rev. Ted Noffs and the Wayside Chapel.

The Story of the Wayside Chapel and Its 'Family of Humanity'

Ted Noffs was a Methodist minister, part of the Uniting Church in Australia, and had served the aboriginals with love and understanding in the outback of Australia. In 1964 the Uniting Church ventured into an experiment at Kings Cross and asked Ted Noffs to take charge of this unique ministry for the forlorn in the crime ridden suburb, among the ‘Godless’ people indulging in vice and crime. Ted Noffs was free to set aside some of the ‘religious’ traditions and constraints to carry out his unique ministry. He renovated a dilapidated old building in Kings Cross and called it the ‘Wayside Chapel’ and flung open its doors to all and sundry.

Seeing the Chapel not even remotely having any semblance of a Church with its pews empty and located where no one would ever build a church or a temple, a fledgling journalist then and media personality now, sceptically remarked, “Mr. Noffs! You may find for your congregation some of the beatniks who live down the road.” (Beatniks were young persons in the 1960s who did not accept society’s customs and principles but who valued personal experience instead, and who had long hair and wore untidy clothes).

It is interesting to note that our Swami too had several such youths from America around Him in the sixties. Ted Noffs set off to meet these youngsters the next day to see if he might lure them to the Chapel. He told me that it was like walking into a lion’s den, for these beatniks hated any kind of establishment, especially the church.

Ted discussed philosophy, politics and current events with the beatniks and found them well informed and highly intelligent. As Ted was amiable they offered him a cup of coffee, which he gladly accepted in spite of their unkempt place and a sink full of unwashed utensils. There was no milk in the fridge and one of them dashed out to buy some milk and Ted accompanied him to the nearby shop. When the beatnik asked for a pint of milk Ted pulled out his wallet and asked for six. The young man turned to Ted and said: “Mr. Noffs! We live by a bottle of milk a day.”


Ted was taken aback by the resolve of this young man, who literally summed up the words of Jesus Christ, “Take therefore no thought, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day are the evils thereof.”

Ted reflected upon the happenings of the day and realised how restricted the church was. They wouldn’t even undertake an activity without having the resources upfront. His faith in God deepened as he reflected upon the kind of ministry Jesus had with ordinary people and how Jesus, with faith and conviction, always looked to his Heavenly Father to provide. Bhagavan Baba also reminds us that God will always provide the means when we undertake noble tasks. The Chapel doors were open for all people irrespective of creed or race, and migrant communities – Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs – who had no place for worship of their own those days started using the ‘Wayside Chapel’ for their prayers which Ted Noffs would participate in.


Soon he realised the urgent need for religious amity, which inspired him to have his own creed at the Wayside Chapel:

“I am a child of the stars. My religion, like the clothes I wear, belongs to the dust of the centuries. My spirit is immortal. Our children are sons and daughters from an eternal kingdom and are here to inherit the riches and resources of this planet for a span until they journey through time and space.

I AM a Catholic,

I AM a Protestant,

I AM a Jew,

I AM a Hindu,

I AM a Moslem,

I AM a Sikh,

I AM a Buddhist, Because I AM a Human and I belong to the Universe, nothing in the world can be alien to me.”

Ted Noffs later added: “The world today is torn apart on the basis of caste, creed, colour, nationality, as well as the socio-economic divide, and is in dire straights towards self-destruction, needing the Einsteins and Galileos of the spirit to show the human race a scientific basis for a spiritual life. Religions are man-made, here today and gone tomorrow. Blessed are those who can distinguish between religion and spirituality and abide by the Universal Spirit of Love to build a better world for our children and their children.”

The “Family of Humanity” became functional and realistic, based not on religious dogmas but spiritual unity as the bedrock for a caring and sharing society through Love and Service. An outreach programme to help the lonely and helpless, Life-education for children and the ‘Naming’ Ceremonies and Marriages in the name of the “Family of Humanity” were pioneered by Ted in the seventies. Bhagavan Baba has always emphasised the importance of “Brotherhood of man and Fatherhood of God.” The weekly open forum at the Chapel became the voice of conscience of the people on many a controversial issue in society.

His acceptance of other religions and ‘Inter-faith’ practises at the Chapel landed Rev. Noffs on heresy charges during his ministry. Regardless, Ted continued courageously with his work, which not only became well known throughout Australia, but also attracted attention from other countries as well. Ted Noffs was awarded the highest award of the country twice – ‘The Australian of the Year’. His Life-education programme spread to several countries. The Readers Digest of March 1986 had a feature article about the Wayside Chapel titled, ‘The Biggest Little Church in the World'.

I attended the 21st anniversary of the Wayside Chapel in February 1985. Some leading politicians and some media celebrities were amongst the vast gathering. Ted Noffs came up to me before the service commenced and I had to introduce myself. He was so delighted to see me there and said, “I want you to speak on behalf of Sai Baba on this special occasion.”


What a request? I was terrified and wished I could disappear underground! I prayed to our Lord saying, “Swami! You have put me in this situation and you alone can save me now,” tightly clinging to the wooden pew. Throughout the service my heart pounded away as I continued praying to Swami. The merciful and omnipresent Lord gave me some confidence by giving me the imagery of Swami Vivekananda at the parliament of religions in Chicago, a century earlier.

Rev. Noffs invited me to speak thus: “I have great pleasure inviting Dr. Pavan from the Homebush Sai Baba Centre to speak on behalf of Sai Baba.” These words were enough to put me into a tail-spin, but I felt assured of Swami’s help. I spoke with confidence, as if Swami had whispered into my ears to start off thus: “Brothers and Sisters of the Family of Humanity! I have come with a Message of Love from my Master, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who is God Incarnate for those who have had the experience of His Love. …”

That was enough to get started and the words were flowing as I filled my speech with Swami’s gems. Before concluding my speech I thanked Ted Noffs for giving me this rare opportunity to share the Love of my beloved Bhagavan with such an august gathering. At the end of the service many of them came up to me and embraced me and wanted to know from which book I had found such beautiful words of wisdom. I replied they were my Master’s simple but universal teachings.

The Multi -Faith Logo specially designed by the Homebush
Sai Centre for the Inaugural Service

Wayside Chapel altar - Neville Fredericks who is presently the
Australian Central Co-ordinator speaking

That was the beginning of our spiritual alliance, a true experience of Inter-faith. In July, the same year, Ted Noffs and many senior members of the Wayside Chapel participated in our Sai Baba Centre meeting at Homebush, Australia. They were very much at home at our Sai centre and Ted Noffs reminded us of our common objectives and invited us to join forces in serving the wider community. The Homebush Sai Centre held the first Sai Baba service at the Wayside Chapel in August 1986 with all the senior office bearers of the Sai organisation taking part.

A special Sarvadharma logo was unveiled as a mark of Unity of Faiths and this logo has become a permanent fixture in the Chapel. The Homebush Sai Centre has continued with this special Sai Baba service at the chapel once a year ever since. The Sathya Sai Organisation in Sydney invited Ted Noffs to deliver the keynote speech on Swami’s 61st Birthday celebration in Nov 1986.

Rev. Noffs had never been to Swami and yet, intuitively, was fully aware of Swami’s Divinity. The following are just a few of the highlights of his speech:


We are honouring a great spiritual giant who may be described only in Messianic terms. Even if nothing else has been achieved in the world, the fact that Sai Baba has brought a sense of spiritual unity and awareness among men of their family-hood in itself is a great achievement. How can I speak about someone who has influenced the world a great deal already? So often the Messiahs of the past were recognised long after their death, but this great Master in His own lifetime is already recognised world over, and that in itself is something!

We have in Him someone constantly manifesting new and great things in a world full of destruction, which is a mark of a person who has come from God. How can we celebrate His birthday? You have to be co-workers with the Divine Power and reach the level of spirituality to be Christ-like. Jesus was a man who became the Christ.


In our outreach programme we looked after a lonely person. He died at Concord Hospital and his hospital records showed the next of kin as the Wayside Chapel - not a brother, sister or any relative. If this little Chapel is the next of kin to this lonely man, can you imagine the countless millions around the world, whose next of kin is Sai Baba?

At the end of this function you go home and feel good about your wonderful singing (Bhajan), your children’s drama and the variety of delicious food, and if you do nothing to help the needy in your neighbourhood, I am sure, your Master would be very disappointed with you. You have to reach out the needy and serve them, be a friend and helper of the helpless people in your community.”

When we reflect on the above extracts from Ted’s speech made almost two decades ago, who had not even visited Swami, but aware of the Avatar and His Mission of UNITY, LOVE and SERVICE, it is a reminder that we need to put in more effort to get the most from the Avatar in this lifetime itself. Bhagavan Baba is the Cosmic Father, come in human form to show humanity the way to peace and prosperity through the realisation of:

ONE CASTE, THE CASTE OF HUMANITY

ONE RELIGION, THE RELIGION OF LOVE

ONE LANGUAGE, THE LANGUAGE OF THE HEART

ONE GOD, HE IS OMNIPRESENT

 

None of the Masters, Messiahs, Prophets and Saints came to earth to start a new religion. They came to validate the ONE ETERNAL TRUTH, ONE GOD, ONE LOVE, ONE CREATION, although periods in history, places on earth, cultures and traditions prevalent in their times may differ. In recorded history, Bhagawan Baba alone has so emphatically declared that all religions are different facets of the same Truth and that the redemption of humanity will be by Love and Love alone. Bhagavan Baba says, “Ego will not allow two good men to stay together and work together.” It is obvious that divisions among men are man-made. It is human weakness and ego that has brought about such religious multiplicity and conflicts in the entire creation, which essentially is ONE. The dawn of this wisdom is God-realisation or Liberation from the bondage of darkness and ignorance.


Let us remind ourselves that Jesus was a Jew and not a Christian at birth. Buddha was a Hindu and not a Buddhist at birth. They did not start a new religion in their names. The multiplicity and divergence that has taken place with passage of time, centuries later is man-made. This is division, fission or break-away, which is a product of ego. All religions are different instruments playing the ONE melody, of Love and Unity. When the conductor brings them together, he will create a beautiful symphony, although the instruments may appear different.

The Messengers, Messiahs, Prophets and Saints are the different instruments sent by God for man to realise his inherent divinity. Now God Himself has come as Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, as the Conductor for the Divine Symphony. Millions of Sai devotees from different religions already practise Unity of Faiths around the globe and also are convinced beyond doubt that GOD IS ONLY ONE.

The reverse of fission or disintegration is fusion or integration. The ego of man has caused the fission and created multiplicity - fragments that are essentially one and the same. Love alone can bring about the fusion or integration of these fragments. Bhagavan Baba is Love in action. Love is His sole property and He alone has the power to bring about this fusion and synthesis through Love.

Lokha Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu - May Everybody Everywhere Be Happy .


Dr. Sara Pavan is an Anaesthesiologist from Australia, serving at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, Prashanthi Nilayam since 1993.

 

 
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Vol 3 Issue 12 - December 2005
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