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  Volume 4 - Issue 05 MAY 2006
 
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THE WORLD AND THE PRESENCE
By Sri K Chakravarthi

Destiny waits in the hand of God, shaping the still unshapen;
I have seen these things in a shaft of Sunlight

– T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

In this brief article I have tried to set my general observations regarding the world in the first two pages and later given expression to my feelings which have sprung in my heart as grateful response to Swami's Presence. Now, please read on.

The World Has Changed, But Has Man?

Is there any generation, where men and women have not felt that times have changed, that the old order is yielding place to a new one, that prescriptions of good conduct and good behavior ought to be changed to suit their times? Allied to this is also a debate in every generation about the meaning of life, God and Man, good and evil, war and peace.

Historically, much has changed, especially in regard to man's conquest over nature. Electricity has revolutionized life in such a fundamental way that 'night' is only an extension of 'day' and human life, on a daily basis, is on a totally different trajectory from the pre-electricity era. For men of the pre-electric age, the quality and pace of today's life would have been utterly inconceivable. Similarly, transportation is another field which has altered man's life so profoundly that lands once distant and mysterious have became close and accessible. Communication has put people in instantaneous contact in today's world so that they know the happenings in any part of the globe as they occur.

All in all, there are many areas of human life which have qualitatively changed.

 

Technological Progress has Brought Us Closer, But Is there Unity?

Paradoxically, physical togetherness has not resulted in spiritual bonding. There is more that separates people than unites them. Countries and communities have not yet been united so as to attain the brotherhood of man.

When travel was time-consuming and arduous, there seems to have been more of a community life. As travel brings people closer, there is more of a casual relationship and the key element is not ''sharing', but 'mutual convenience'. All this makes it clear that physical contact and networking need not necessarily lead to emotional understanding.

I do not subscribe to the view that yesterday's world was better than today's and that there has been a steady decline in values. Human history is replete with instances of aggression, slaughter, ingratitude, chicanery, vengefulness and utter self-centeredness. Whatever has been the state of external conditions, that is, whether pre-technological or post-technological, human emotions have expressed themselves in a seemingly unaltered pattern.

Seeking a Solution to Transform Society

If then we find that the external world has vastly changed, but human nature has remained pretty constant, especially in its insensitivity to fellow human beings, where do we seek a solution?

Amongst a large number of people there is a feeling that what is historically dated is not relevant in today's context. This is true in a number of cases but it is not entirely so, particularly in the context of human relations because the driving force in human behavior has shown a persistence in human history.

It is recognized that human nature is a mixture of altruism and selfishness, of generosity and meanness, of vengefulness and forgiveness, of nobility and crassness, of love and hatred. It is also recognized that a human being needs to become refined by eschewing the downside qualities and only in that conscious and consistent process of refinement, can collective well-being become established.

As a student of history and politics, I had been struck by these general observations I have made above and wondered how the world can be a better place for all to live in peace and harmony.

 

Economic Redistribution?

At one time I thought that if economic exploitation of the weak was the prime reason for iniquitous society, then the solution should lie in economic redistributive justice. But, unfortunately, history has also revealed that efforts made in that direction resulted in large scale misery because the laudable motive of bringing into existence a society of equals soon became corrupted and gave way to an unabashed pursuit of power resulting in a civic society suffering from an encircling sense of fear. The dream of economic emancipation dissolved into a nightmare of unbearable authoritarianism.

An International Arbiter?

At another time I thought that if the world is to be a better place for all, then there is a need for a genuinely international institution which can reconcile the conflicting claims of nations in a spirit of mutual accommodation and constructive cooperation. But, as history unfolds, it is becoming clear that this faith could be misplaced and granted that nations like individuals are unequal, there can be no greater right than might. I also realised that the peace of the world is uncertain unless men keep the peace of God.

Unbridled Freedom and Opportunity?

Later I thought that if freedom and opportunity are provided then there could be a release of great energy and power resulting in a more equal society. Such a society would be characterized by progress based on merit and not on the accident of birth. But soon I found that freedom dwindled into abrasive individualism and opportunity into cultivated nepotism.

Granted that there is no equality in nature as such in resource endowments either of regions or individuals, virtues like balance, stability and mutuality in society are to be rooted not in the domain of physical strength or emotional realm but in spiritual reality, because it is only in spirit that men are truly equal.

It is this vague feeling in me that made me look out for what could be a more plausible area for a genuine betterment of society. I must confess that this remained inarticulate or at best half-articulate.

The encounter with Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba and the years that have been spent at His Lotus feet, listening to Him and reading His works, have thrown a new light on what I took as serious issues of human life. The focus shifted slowly from an assessment of others' roles to that of my own role. Am I adding to the problems of the world or am I contributing even in a small measure to solving them?

Swami's Prescription: Transform Yourself First

A Ceiling on Desires

Swami holds that before reforming or transforming the world, the individual should reform and transform himself. What type of reformation does this involve? If I have to do something for the economic reformation of the poor then I have to address myself to the reasons which cause the problem in the first instance.

The reasons could be multiplication of wants, wasteful use of resources, personal aggrandizement, lack of education and skills, poor health and low productivity, and so on. As a person set on the course of providing relief to the poor I can reduce my wants by consciously putting a ceiling on desires, treat misuse of money (resources) as evil, consciously practise the virtue of selflessness, participate in an education programme which enhances skills and strengthens the values of the poor people, and encourage preventive health care which reduces the vulnerability of the poor.

 

Selfless Service

The above are precisely the prescription of Swami. Swami holds that Bharat is richly endowed and can provide for the legitimate wants of all her people but not for ever expanding (or limitless) desires. And therefore He has given us the programme of putting a ceiling on our desires. Similarly He is cautioning us against misuse of nature's gifts by over-exploitation and misuse of money. He shows us by His own exemplary life the role of utter selflessness in reaching out to the poor and neglected. The antidote to personal aggrandizement is selfless service. By establishing excellent hospitals which provide free medical care, He has demonstrated how one's altruism will render such service possible. His altruism stands self-proclaimed and does not need other's encomium. He shows that His selfless service is an expression of His universal love, a love that knows no limits or boundaries, a love that knows no discrimination on any grounds whatsoever.

Providing the Basics: Education, Health Care, Safe Water

 
By setting up schools and a university which provide free education, He has demonstrated again the possibility of such a venture, worthy of emulation by people who have as their cherished goal provision of good education for the poor and the underprivileged. By undertaking projects which provide protected and safe drinking water to a large numbers in backward districts of the state, He has again demonstrated that if there is a firm resolve on the part of the service provider, be it a government or private organization, then it is well within the realm of possibility. What could be the reason for Bhagavan's launching drinking water supply projects? The answer is obvious – it's because water is basic to sustaining life. In the modern world it is the poor who lack access to safe drinking water. It is therefore imperative that clean drinking water is made available to the poor rural population. It is evident that it is His concern for the poor that has prompted Him to spend significant sums of money on drinking water supply projects.
The Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project, Anantapur
   

That concern is once again an expression of His universal love that encompasses all and which flows spontaneously without expecting anything in return. How do people who talk of economic planning to provide basic necessities such as water or minimum health care or education react? Do they take these visible expressions of high-class economic service as instances of good planning, effective implementation and optimal management? Perhaps. But do they also think of these services as not merely economic solutions but as noble examples of selfless love with a universal message – a message which goes beyond treating human beings as economic agents or political animals but as the embodiments of the Divine who should grow to their full stature? I really wonder!

"Time Waste is Life Waste" Baba

It is passing strange how Bhagavan, who is beyond time, sets much store by doing things in time. He has no time to waste. Time waste, He says, is life waste. Not for Him therefore is the endless talk of how to improve the lot of the poor and the downtrodden which is the stock-in-trade of all our professional economists and public men. For Him, it's ceaseless action to alleviate the sufferings of people, to help them face life with courage and fortitude, to encourage them to move forward despite hardships, to hold each other's hands through their lives' vicissitudes and to live the day to face the morrow.

Demand Less From The World, Do More For The World

In a world which is clearly/plainly/visibly beset with seemingly endless problems, Swami is physically present and His Presence extends the assurance that we can overcome them. We need to take the first steps, those first steps are to be in the direction of demanding less from the world and doing more for the world. That should not be difficult in the presence of the One who does not demand anything at all and who does it all silently for the world.

So much of our lives are lost in debating economic ideologies, political philosophies and wasteful institution-building. Instead our lives need to be repaired by doing selfless service in a spirit that such service done to our fellow human beings is service done to God. Truly our God, Lord Sai, serves His Creation and what better testimony can we give than to do service to His Creation in the spirit that such service is indeed our service to our God, Lord Sai.

The Lord who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.

– T.S. Eliot, The Rock, 1934

 

The Solution: A Unified Spiritual Outlook

The problems of the world will continue to be problems. We cannot solve them in the abstract. We can solve some or a few of them only by the process of identification with the sufferers and that process of identification, as Swami teaches us, can only be through a spiritual outlook which sees God in all and all in God.

All attempts at solving the problems of the world at a physical or intellectual level will be fractured because they are treated as others' problems and not our own. Because of His universal awareness, consciousness and love, Swami solves the problems by treating such problems as His own and not of others.

To the extent that we treat more and more people as our own by spiritually bringing them in our fold, we move more and more towards Bhagavan. Such an approach is a twin blessing because it makes our lives worthwhile and takes us closer to our Creator. This is realizable only when, as Swami says, 'I' and 'You' become 'We' because of His universal awareness, consciousness and love. And then there is no more separateness.

We need to attain the state about which the mystic poet speaks:

I know that knowledge is a vast embrace
I know that every being is myself,
In every heart is the hidden myriad One.
I know the calm Transcendant bears the world,
The veiled Inhabitant, the silent Lord:
I feel his secret act, his intimate fire;
I hear the murmur of the cosmic Voice
I know my coming was a wave from God.

– Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, p. 671

 
   
Sri Aurobindo

A True Knowledge Society

Conceiving terrestrial paradise in economic and emotional terms will be a nonstarter if we continue to look at the world through external sight. Earth can become paradise only when we start viewing the world through, as the poet says, the inward eye. There is no paradise out there. It's in here, in everyone's spiritual heart. This 'knowledge' is to be regained so that we understand what Swami wants us to understand, namely, that we are made of His stuff, that is, His Divine Essence. We need to go beyond the currently understood "knowledge society" and enter into the true knowledge society which Swami envisions, in which separateness gives way to unity, pollution is overcome by purity, and human frailty is transformed into exalted divinity.


Sri K. Chakravarthi, IAS, was the first Registrar of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning and is currently the Secretary of Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust.

Heart2Heart Team


 

 
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Vol 4 Issue 05 - MAY 2006
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