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THE SAI MOVEMENT IN PERU

Previous Articles In This Series


The
Land of Peru – Rich and Luscious

“I am proud and happy to be Peruvian, to have been born in the beautiful land of the sun, where the indomitable Inca preferred to die, and left our race an inheritance of courage... Rich mountains, beautiful lands, enchanting beaches, this is my Peru! Fertile fields, mountains snow peaks, rivers and streams, this is my Peru!”

This popular and beautiful song composed by the Peruvian Creole musician Manuel Raygada, describes the splendour of Peru, a mystical and magnificent country, replete with a diversity and richness uncommon in the world, and offering an infinite number of possibilities and opportunities to live by, with its unique history, culture, nature, adventure and the touching human warmth of its people.

Peru is located in South America, its coast bathed by the Pacific Ocean. The population is over 27 million people, whose diversity and mixture of different races provides a variety of cultural wealth that is priceless.

Spanish is the most popular and the official tongue but there exist many native dialects like Quechua and Aymara. Shaped like California but three times its size, this third largest country in South America shares its borders with as many as five nations. While it is flanked by Equador and Colombia in the north, Brazil and Bolivia border it on the east and on the south begins the long strip of Chile.

peru
Peru in South America

The land of Peru is perhaps the most richly endowed by nature in the South American continent. While the 30 to 150 km wide and 1500 miles long coastline by the South Pacific Ocean has valleys and barren deserts; the Sierra (highlands) plows from north to south by the mountains of the Andes and displays high snow-peaks filled with countless lakes and lagoons; and the amazing Amazon jungle, on the other hand, characterized by extensive tropical forests and deep rivers with abundant vegetation, is home to innumerable species of wildlife. Thanks to these matchless triumvirate geographic regions, today Peru holds 80 of the 104 existing ecosystems in the world. No wonder it is in this land that the greatest South American civilizations flowered and flourished.

Oruro Carnival in the Sierra
Chulpas buildings in Puno, Sierra

The Cradle of Ancient Civilisations

Though the Inca Empire that emerged and established itself on the Andes in the 15th century is the most famous, there were many other civilizations which existed thousands of years before the Incas. The semi-desert coastal strip of Peru which extends from the seaboard, to the foot of the mountain range of the Andes has been witness to the continuous flourishing of many pre-Incan cultures. First was the Sacred City of Caral, the oldest town of America, believed to be 5000 years old and the “Mother City” of the world’s first great civilizations. This metropolis of tens of thousands of people was a city of pyramids and monuments at a time when Egypt and Mesopotamia were still in their infancy.

The Sacred City of Caral - America's oldest city and birthplace of world's first great civilisations

The Royal tombs of the Lord of Sipan were discovered on the north coast, in 1987, considered to be the richest haul found in the occidental hemisphere. These tombs are an expression of the Mochica culture, which was renowned for its pottery and metallurgy. The Lord of Sipán is a mummy found by Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva; the tomb is in Sipán's Huaca Rajada. Some archaeologists hold it to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the world in the last 30 years, because the main tomb was found intact and untouched by thieves. The “huaca” is a mausoleum built by the Moche culture that ruled the northern coast of Peru from the time of Christ to 700 AD, again, many centuries prior to the Incas.

Gold necklace from the Sipan culture
Striking Sipan jewellery

If that was in the north coast, in the south was the Chimú culture, whose greatest expression preserved to this day is the adobe construction of the Chan Chan urban complex. This 20 square kilometer vast mud city of Chan Chan (which in the ancient Mochica language means "sun-sun"), is the largest pre-Columbian city in South America built between 850 BC and 1740 BC, and was also the imperial capital until the Chimús were conquered by the Incas in the 15th century. It is estimated that 30,000 people lived in this world’s largest pre-Hispanic mud-brick citadel.

The massive and ornate walls of Chan Chan
Detail of the wall

The Sierra, a ‘Stairway to Heaven’

But this is not even 10 percent of what this fascinating nation is made up of. They say, “The mountains in Peru are so pervasive that it is almost impossible to imagine a landscape without soaring peaks looming in the horizon." In one locality, straddling an area between 50-150 miles, there are 174 peaks over 16,000 feet high and 39 in excess of 19,000 feet, while the average is 14,000 feet!

Cusco wall motif
The Cusco holiday dance

Main Cathedral at Cusco
A couple from the Sierra

Peru’s Andes around Cusco, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Americas, was once upon a time the centre of the earth for the Inca Empire. It is in these mountains that the powerful Inca civilization rose, its vast territory covering a portion of current Colombia, nearly all of Ecuador, a great part of what today is Peru, all of Bolivia, the northern part of Chile and northwest Argentina, encompassing a total area of nearly two million square miles. The empire was called “Tawantisuyo” in the Quechua language, which means ‘Empire of the Four Regions’. And today, this city of Cusco is recognized as a Cultural Heritage of the world and an Archeological Capital of America.

The Incas left noteworthy examples of their labor, such as great impregnable fortresses, temples and palaces. They solved the agricultural problems set by their enormous population, by building terraces on the side of the hills, where cultivation was almost a miracle and their irrigation works, hanging bridges and roads exist even today! But question marks remain about the huge blocks of stone, perfectly cut under the Incan structures. For example, there is one such stone weighing an estimated 80 tons, and not native to the area, at Sacsayhuaman. (Mind you, the largest modern crane can move at most 60 tons).

Some of the most remarkable buildings are at Sacsayhuaman, Tambomachay, and Ollantaytambo. And the most wonderful ruins are, of course, the world famous Machu Picchu, popularly known as the ‘Lost City of the Incas' located over the majestic Urubamba Canyon, surrounded by savage and splendorous nature. In fact, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee called this stone city "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization". Till today, it remains a mystery how such huge stones were moved to this inaccessible site.

The ruins at Sacsayhuaman
Machu Picchu, the ‘Lost City of the Incas'

Also on these majestic mountain ranges is the highest peak of the Peruvian Andes, Huascarán, at 6768 m. There is also the Alpamayo at 5,947m, considered the world’s most beautiful mountain at a show celebrated in Munich in 1966. The Titicaca Lake, the highest navigable lake in the world, at 3,821 meters above sea level, is located in the South of Peru, in one of the coldest areas of the country. At this altitude the lake shines an iridescent blue through the clear sunlight - a beautiful complement to the red and brown-hued hills of the altiplano (southern highlands).

Huascarán, the highest peak
Another view of the range around Huascarán

Tiahuanaco and Chavín on the mountains and also Paracas on the coast, are some of the names of the other cultures that flourished thousands of years ago. They were masters in the arts of textiles and pottery. Some worshipped an unknown and all-powerful God, and others - the majority - worshipped mythological beings. They were also knowledgeable in the sciences of measuring time and astronomy.

Alpamayo mountain, possibly the most beautiful in the world
The Titicaca Lake - highest navigable lake in the world

Peruvian Jungles – Breathing for the World

Now coming to another most exciting natural treasure of Peru, the Amazonian Selva or rainforest. Covering an area of 756,866 square kilometers, it is one of the main lungs of the world, making up 10% of all the world’s forests. In fact, it is responsible for 50% of the renovated oxygen on Earth, and its hydrographic basin contains over 1000 rivers and lakes, no less than one fifth of the fresh water reserves on Earth. The Peruvian Amazonia, truly, is a wild symphony day and night, and one of Nature's favourite shows, filled with the most exuberant flora and fauna known to man: millions of noble centuries old trees where nearly 15,000 species of animals live; among them 1,800 bird species; 2,000 kinds of mammals and 1,500 types of fish. It is a natural space full of color and enchantment inviting endless exploration and unlimited excitement.

People of the jungle
A river meadering through a jungle valley

 

The Amazon River , the largest river in the world by volume, with greater total river flow than the next eight largest rivers combined, has its source in these forests from the union of the Ucayali and Marañón rivers. With a jaw-dropping 16 km width, 30 m depth and a length of at least 6500 kms (of which 3,713 km are in Peruvian territory), this river is often referred to as ‘The River Sea’. More than 1,100 rivers flow into its course and on the average, some 28 billion gallons per minute flow into the sea, about 10 times the flow of the Mississippi. The discharge is so great that it noticeably dilutes the salinity of the Atlantic's waters for more than 100 miles offshore. In fact, there are more fish species in the Amazon river system than in the entire Atlantic Ocean and one-third of the planet’s bird species live in this rainforest.

Amazonia, undoubtedly, is a wonderland for botanists, bird watchers, scientists, ecologists, tourists, trekkers, anthropologists, archaeologists, gold-seekers, explorers and the curious. Sports enthusiasts here enjoy whitewater rafting, kayaking, jungle walks and fishing. Still, what is known of this colorful and pristine creation and preserved through reserves and national parks is very little; the unknown forest is natural, mysterious and magical.

Two jungle inhabitants
 

Iquitos, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest, is the most populous city in the world that cannot be reached by road. Located on the Amazon River, it can be reached only by airplane or boat. There is no end to the mysterious packed in this priceless terrestial treasure on earth.

Sunset over Lima
Localised map of Peru

Lima – The Heart of Peru

Though Iquitos has long been a major port in the Amazon Basin, the most significant port-city of Peru has been Lima. It was the capital and most important city even during the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru (mid 1500’s to early 1800’s), which was an administrative area encompassing most of Spain's possessions in South America. In fact, the Spanish conqueror Francisco Pizarro, who founded this city, called it as the ‘City of Kings’. In 1988, the Historic Centre of Lima was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to the large number of historical buildings dating from the Spanish colonial era, from the monumental Plaza Mayor, with the 16th century Cathedraland the Presidential Palace, to the catacombs of the Saint Francisco Convent and any number of awe-inspiring museums.

Francisco Pizarro
The coast of Lima city

Today nearly one-third of the nation's population lives in this one metropolitan area which is undoubtedly the country’s cultural and economic hub; not only this, it has also now become the culinary capital of South America with its most delectable cuisines which combines Inca and Spanish culinary traditions, including many African, Asian, French, Italian and Muslim cuisine features and dishes.

'
Lima's cathedral and archbishop's palace

Not only Lima alone, indeed, the whole nation for centuries has revered food. Food is verily divine for all Peruvians and is part of every celebration, whether it is at birth, adulthood or marriage of a child or any other event of significance. Blessed with lands and seas of great abundance, Peruvians have appreciated this God-given gift for centuries by cooking, eating and creating just like the gods. But this alone is not what draws tourists to Peru in increasing numbers every year. (Tourism, by the way, is now the largest foreign currency-earner in Peru).

Gratifying Love for God

What truly fascinates people about Peru is actually a combination of various sublime elements from geographical remoteness to highly bio-diverse, self-sustainable microenvironments, from large numbers of indigenous peoples who maintain traditional beliefs and practices, to hundreds of festivals dedicated to the patron saints of Peru; and most importantly, the nations’ precious wealth - the pleasing personality and mannerisms of Peruvians. The people of this ancient land have inherited sublime traditions expressed in their diverse cultural manifestations.

Each zone of the country stands out with a character and nuances of its own, full of joy and love for God. This predominantly Catholic country dances in ecstasy and agony with extraordinary color and great self-assurance. There are about 3,000 festivities that make up the annual calendar of celebrations of every region of the country. And every year, Lima, its capital city, enjoys a traditional holiday that lasts throughout October.

This month, called the “purple” month, from the color of the rope used by the hundreds of thousands who worship the Lord of Miracles, a uniquely Peruvian image of Jesus Christ, is an unparalleled example of wholehearted faith and devotion when hundreds of thousands of devotees sing and dance on the streets of Lima (which has gradually spread to the whole of Peru) in devotional fervor.

 
   
The grand 'Lord of the Miracles' procession

And the divine, was perhaps, so touched with the pure love of Peruvians that He made Himself known to these groups of pious people nearly three decades ago when many countries in South America were still blissfully unaware of this descent of the same ‘Lord of Miracles’, albeit now in a different but delectable form.

So how did this actually happen? Were there any mysterious healings and visions? Who were the fortunate ones to be first touched by the love of Sai in Peru? And what impact did it have on them? Now you will relish this fascinating story, which we are sure is more thrilling than all that you have read about Peru till now.

Sai Baba Comes To Peru

 

It was 1978. A group of Sai Baba devotees formed a Sai association, completely oblivious of the existence of an International Sai Organization. Jorge Corrales, a fondly remembered devotee, made contact with the Sai Organization in India seeking guidance to formalize the small group of devotees into a recognised organisation. After a year of waiting, a letter informed them that someone was coming from India to help organize and form the Sai Organization of Peru - but this person never came.

In November 1979, Mr. and Mrs. Bravo-Figueroa, a devotee couple, traveled with their son to India to visit Sai Baba. They were given the responsibility of asking Bhagavan when He was going to send the person referred to in the letter. Mr. Luis Muñiz (who was president of the Sai Centre of México) was to be the interpreter. On 4 December, Baba called the Bravos and Luis Muniz for an interview. Towards the end of the interview, Luis started to say, “In Peru …” but Baba immediately intercepted him saying, “I know, I know in Peru there are many devotees of Swami and they don’t have a centre.”

Then using both His hands, and blessing the Bravos, He said, “I authorize and bless you to form the first Sai Centre in Peru .” What a grand beginning for the Sai movement of Peru! From then on, needless to say, Sai’s glory in this land, on the other side of the world, only increased. Swami, in that historic interview, also directed Luis to assist and instruct the Bravos in setting up as well as functioning of the Sai Centre. Later, guidelines for the nascent group arrived too from the International Sai Organization.

All the devotees keenly studied the rules and understood their import, and then gladly signed up as the members. They started singing devotional songs and attending Sai meetings. Finally on May 27, 1980, there were 52 members who signed the constitutional act in the home of Senora Dina de Alessandrini. Filled with positive vibes and each member so enthusiastic and ecstatic, it was a sight to see when every devotee, with joy brimming on their faces, received a key to the house which was rented for the centre, so that they could visit at any hour convenient for them.

“Miracle in Lima ”

While the Sai mission was just taking shape, in 1979, Bhagavan assured the Bravos that their small son, Walter Jr., would be cured of his sickness. He had in fact materialized a medal with His image, and also given vibhuti for their son. Mrs. Bravo asked Swami what they should do once the Vibhuthi is all used up. And Swami, in His inimitable way, responded, “Don’t worry, you will never be without it.” All she could understand from this message was that they would have to return to India to replenish it from Swami once the supply went low.

But the real meaning of Swami’s assurance came to light in March, 1980, when vibhuthi started appearing from two photos of Swami that adorned their home. The Bravos, at first, were bewildered. They called their friends and other devotees to witness this strange event. Many of Dr. Bravo’s colleagues working in a large hospital, who were not devotees, came too, and were confounded by the unusual occurring. It was so out-of-the-ordinary in this part of the world that the event came to be published in a local newspaper “Cambio” with the title, “Miracle in Lima.”

There was another surprise awaiting the Bravo family a few days later. Now, the photos of Sai Baba had stopped oozing vibhuti; but it had begun, in large quantities, on a large picture of Jesus Christ. And this phenomenon continued with the sacred ‘powdery signs of His Grace’ now falling off from different pictures, including a large photo of Swami which rained vibhuti during a meeting of the Central Council in the home of the Bravos in the year 1997.

The devotion of the Bravos too was anything but ordinary. Little Walter Jr. was suffering a lot of pain, and one doctor traced it to his being a vegetarian. But such was the commitment of the 10-year old to follow Swami’s ideals that, after leaving the doctor’s office, he said, “I would rather suffer the pain than start eating meat.” His sickness was one of the reasons which brought his father, Dr. Bravo closer to Sai. Before he merged with Swami in 2006, Dr. Walter Bravo did mention that spirituality always fascinated him, and that before ‘knowing’ Swami, he was a member of a spiritual organization and enthusiastically distributed spiritual literature. In fact, it was only when the book “Sai Baba: Man of Miracles” came into his hands that his life changed.

 
   
The miraculous picture of Jesus with vibhuti

Their group translated this book from English to Spanish and started discussing it in their regular study circles. Later, when they saw a film on Swami, their faith in the Divinity of Baba only strengthened. Dr. Bravo was now convinced; he had found his spiritual master. All he wanted from now was to understand and assimilate His teachings. He tried to identify with Bhagavan’s message: “You are not the physical body, or the mind; you are verily divine.” “The problems which you encounter should not allow your faith in God to diminish even a little. You should always strive for the bliss of being close to God, without worrying about the difficulties or the triumphs of life’s journey.” These inspiring words of Swami had an indelible impact on his life and thoughts, and that is how this founding member of the Sai Organization of Peru transformed into a beautiful being with strong faith in Swami and became a precious instrument in His divine hands for the Sai mission in Peru.

The Amazing Healing of Juana De Torres

Swami, personally, in His own mysterious ways, shaped every devotee in Peru. Juana de Torres, another founding member of the Sai Organization of Peru, who also served as the first president of the Sai Foundation of Peru, narrating her story, says,

 

“It was the end of February, 1990. A strange weakness overtook me. I was feeling tired; it was difficult to even walk a few metres. Several doctors examined me, but a definite diagnosis still eluded me. One doctor looking at the X-rays of my thorax detected liquid in my lungs and recommended immediate hospitalization.

He concluded that I had malignant cancer, and that it was situated in a very critical area making it impossible to operate. ‘It is untreatable’, he clearly said. Another physician without mincing words, told my husband, three months is the maximum he would give me given my failing health. You can imagine how worried my family was!

“Many devotees started praying for me, even from other countries. They told me to visit India and see Swami, but I said, ‘I will go only after I am well, to thank Him’.

Juana de Torres (extreme left) with the Sai family
   

As the days passed, my health got from bad to worse, and now they were giving me oxygen as I was unable to even breathe comfortably. The doctors decided to do a bypass surgery to clear my liquid-filled lungs. I discovered that if they didn’t operate immediately, I could die of asphyxia. But it was during these trying days that I felt closer to God than ever before. I just dedicated all day to my personal sadhana. I spent every moment with Him.

“And then, one morning during this difficult period, when I was in the hospital listening to bhajans, meditating and reliving my trip to Prashanti, I suddenly felt His presence. He was looking at me with such tender loving eyes. It was completely suffused with bliss. With that one compassionate look, He had said everything, He had filled me with love that was powerful and peace-giving. I could not contain myself, I started to cry. Those were tears of ecstasy and bliss. It was at this time, that my brother came in with few others who had come to donate blood. When he saw me crying, he said, ‘Little sister, please don’t cry, you will soon be well.’

“I remember, I told him that those were not tears of sadness, in fact, I was radiating with happiness and joy. And then, in a few minutes the doctor came. ‘The tests show you have Hodgkin’s disease,’ he said. ‘No need to worry, it can be treated and we will start the treatment tomorrow.’ I let the doctors treat me for a short time but I was anxious to return home and to be able to plan a trip to see Swami.  I was sure that Swami had cured me. 

“At the end of January, 1992, my long dreamt desire materialized, I was in Puttaparthi. In the first Darshan itself, I was able to give Swami a few letters, and in an instant His eyes met mine. What a moment it was! I could clearly see His eyes say, ‘So, now you have come!’ In a few days Swami called the Peruvian group for an interview. One from the group asked Swami in English about my health and Swami immediately said, ‘Yes I know, she has nothing now; she is completely well, and I am taking care of her.’ And such is His love that even now, in 2007, I am enjoying good health and so happy with my spiritual sadhana.”

The First Centres in Peru

So, it was through such experiences of His pure love and compassion, that devotees started growing in number in Peru. It was He who was allowing His beautiful mission to unfold slowly and steadily. Devotees started singing bhajans, as a guideline they had in those days only one cassette which had songs sung by Baba Himself. Some started translating His discourses from books and many gave away these copies freely to anybody who was willing to listen.

And gradually after the first centre in Lima, the capital city, and many additional centres sprung up in the interior of the country, all started and run by self-inspired dedicated devotees. In 1991, the Central Council of Latin America decided to name the first Coordinating Committee. On 29 April, 1991, senior members of the Organisation - Leonardo Gutter, Nassin Michaan and Carlos Rivas - established the first committee in Peru. It was composed of the presidents of the Sai Centres of Barranco, Cercado de Lima, Cipreses, Jesús María y and Trujillo, as well as the groups of Salamanca, Monterrico, Arequipa, Trujillo, Talara and Chiclayo and Cajamarca. While Barranco is a beautiful district, Trujillo in the northwest is called the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its very sunny and pleasant weather year-round and Arequipa in Southern Peru is the nation’s second most important city after Lima. Love for Sai slowly had blossomed along the whole stretch of the nation. And His miracles and presence were now felt more than ever before. Litu Daryanani recalling a life-saving incident from the early nineties, says,

Saved From Terrorists…By Sai

“It was 15 July, 1992, the day after the sacred festival of Guru Purnima was celebrated in our house. About two weeks prior to this day, I had a dream where I saw myself walking down a very lonely street. There were people peeping at me from their windows. Suddenly a person pointed a machine gun at my head and commanded me to kneel down. I quietly did so. And then he started shouting repeatedly ‘I am going to kill you’. I did not know what to do, I just responded by shouting out loud ‘Sai Ram! Sai Ram!’ And surprisingly in the next instant, the man pushed me away and moved on. When I awoke the dream was vivid in my mind but soon I completely forgot about it.

“A few days before Guru Poornima when I walked from the kitchen to my bedroom through the sitting room and a bedroom, I saw an orange shadow, or you could even say, an orange figure, at the corner of each room. I felt Swami’s presence. On July 14 we had Bhajans at our house celebrating Guru Poornima and the birth of my daughter Aarti. She was only 2 and half months old then.

 

“This was the period when terrorism was on the rise in Peru and the miscreants would harm innocent civilians by detonating car bombs. So, on the July 16, around 9.00 pm when I was in the kitchen preparing dinner while little Aarti was asleep on her cot placed just next to the big glass windows, I heard a small explosion. I immediately went to my room and looked out of the window to understand where the sound came from. But shockingly, there was another explosion, now a loud one, and it seemed as if it came from the hotel which was right across the street.

“I heard loud shouts ‘Fire! Fire!’ I thought the hotel has caught fire. Without wasting a second I turned around, lifted Aarti out of her cot and walked towards the main door of the house. As I ran out I could see all the big glass windows of our apartment breaking and falling in. I could hear the sound of ambulances, fire brigades and the most pathetic cries of people. It was so weird and frightening; I did not know what had caught fire. In a state of shock I hurried towards the entrance of the building just to be out of this whole scene and take Aarti to safety. And in the lobby, I saw my husband, who had just arrived.

 

"The scene outside was shocking, he said. It seemed like we were at war. There was glass everywhere from the buildings. He told me that a car bomb full of explosives had exploded in Calle Tarata, a street parallel to the street we lived in. And as a result, the building below which the car was parked was on fire and many people were injured. The explosion broke the windows of all the surrounding buildings. Nobody yet understood the extent of the damage and the number of lives that perished.

“When we went up to our apartment we found all the glass windows broken and my daughter’s cot was full of tiny glass pieces! It was the presence of mind in that instant to take Arati out of her cot, that had saved our family, and I thanked Swami immensely for taking care of me every second. The next day we heard that the terrorists had actually planned two car bomb attacks. One exploded, causing terrible trauma to many, but the other car-load of explosives that had been left outside my building at the same time, somehow had not gone off. Imagine, I was only a few steps away from the car bomb with my baby in my arms! Who else but Swami can protect us like this, guarding us every moment of our lives. He is our divine Mother. We owe our lives to Him.

“It was only some time later that I recollected the dream wherein just His name had saved me from terrorists. Even though He is there with us every moment of our lives, we sometimes do not realize this and He, in His own way, makes us aware of His presence, so that we may not ever forget Him, and redeem of our lives. I am ever grateful to my beloved Sai Maa for ever being on my side.”

Swami Always Answers

Once Sai enters our lives, we are never the same again. And Swami’s love in Peru was doing wonders. So many – young and old, men and women, children and adults – by some mystical design were coming into the Sai fold. Narrating his experience, Billy Escalante, a young adult, says,

“Once I was on a visit to the home of my future wife, Mayte. Her brother got into an argument with her that day while I was present and, of course, I came to the defense of Mayte. And this upset my future brother-in-law and now there was a lot of tension between us.

“It was about this time that I discovered Sai Baba from a book. I was very much impressed but very apprehensive too. Being a catholic, I was worried if by following Baba’s teachings, I would be unfaithful to Jesus. I felt I needed some guidance directly from Christ before accepting and learning more about Baba.

“After the argument with my future brother-in-law, whenever I went to visit Mayte, he never opened the door. Mayte’s sister and brother-in-law too lived in the same house, but her brother would always answer the door and the moment he saw me, he would just shut the door. Then, I would knock again and finally Mayte would come and allow me in. And this was going on for quite some time and it was very frustrating for me.

 
   
Billy and Mayte Escalante - active in the Sai Organisation

“One night after I knocked on their door, I heard the brother-in-law coming to open the door, and then he slammed it right in front of my face. I was so upset. I did not know what to do except pray to Jesus in this way, ‘Oh Lord, if it is alright to study Sai Baba’s teachings and to follow Him, have my brother-in-law look at me in my eye, embrace me and say that I am a good man.’ I had just finished this prayer, and to my amazement the brother-in-law returned to the door and opened it. Not only that, he looked at me, gave me a fraternal hug and said, ‘Billy, you are a good man.’ I was dumbstruck. It was seeing something which I thought was surely impossible. At that instant, I had got my answer; I decided that I would love Sai Baba.”

After Billy and Mayte were married, they entered the Sai movement with vigour and were later blessed with their first child, a sweet girl. But as Billy was just getting started in his career, they did not have enough resources to lead a comfortable life. At times, it was so bad that there was not enough money even to buy milk for the baby. And during these trying times, as Billy was walking down the street, one day, he thought to himself, ‘How is it that the birds and animals don’t work and yet God provides for them, and here we, who are God’s children, don’t even have money to buy milk for our baby.’ And then, just as he was passing under a tree, several ‘soles’ (Peruvian bank notes) came drifting down to the sidewalk, just like dry leaves falling off the tree. Of course, they were exactly enough to buy just one large tin of canned milk for the baby.

They way Swami listens to the prayers of His devotees and answers each one of them so beautifully, is something that can never be understood or explained, it can only be felt and experienced. And every devotee of Sai has their own beautiful little story of His love and Grace. We read how Swami saved Aarti from terrorists when she was only few days old; now Aarti is a cheerful young adult in her early twenties with her own sweet experiences. This is what she narrates:

 

Guarded by the Gayatri Mantra

“This happened when I was fifteen. After five magical days in Puttaparthi in February 2001, it was time to go home. We decided to make a last-minute service and then catch the bus which would take us to the airport. As soon as we finished, we ran all the way to the bus; but it was too late, we missed it. Nervous and worried, we took a rickshaw to go to the airport, and on the way I was sad, unhappy that I had leave Puttaparthi. I felt safe in Swami’s town, completely protected from my worst fears: tremors and earthquakes. I asked my mum which mantra I could say to protect us from earthquakes, and she said that the Gayathri Mantra is the most powerful; it would protect me from everything.

“So I started reciting the Mantra, and after a little while we saw a herd of buffalos on the lonely road we were on. We were looking at them for less than a minute when suddenly, we realized one of the buffalos was coming towards us. Quickly, it trotted towards the rickshaw we were in. We were not in the safest of positions. With more than three big bags, we didn’t really fit in the rickshaw and my mum’s leg was jutting out of it. Horrified, I realized the buffalo was less than a meter away from us, and gaining speed. I didn’t know what was happening, but my mouth was suddenly open and screaming.

 

“The buffalo banged against the rickshaw, right were my mother’s leg was. Then, it moved away. In shock, we stopped the vehicle and got down to see the damage. To my astonishment, mum’s leg was intact and the only sign of the encounter was a deep dent in the rickshaw. The metal was bent inwards like it had been made of cotton. My mom looked at me and saw tears in my eyes. She asked me what was wrong, and then the realization hit her, as to how we had been saved. I had been reciting the Gayatri Mantra.”

Motivated Sai Youth Show the Way

Like Billy, Aarti, Mayte, so many young souls felt His presence in their lives and the Sai youth movement in Peru gained momentum. In November, 1996, the first youth group of the Sai organization was formed. And from then on, they actively played a major role in all the activities of the Sai Centres. For many years now, they have adopted a marginal community called Virgen de Cocharcas, and everyone gets involved to serve in this project. They regularly offer a vegetarian lunch, present Human Values dramas, and on some festivals distribute clothes and toys.

The Sai youth of Peru have also organized regional retreats for young people from other countries in South America which has inspired everyone, and helped to gain experience in the organization of large events. Here are some pictures of this and other retreats for all age groups, in addition to public meetings.

Youth meeting in Lima
The Sai Retreat in Lima, 2003 on the theme 'All are One.'

Education in Human Values Captures Hearts

With the youth’s active participation, as well as the growth and the commitment of members of the Organisation, Bal Vikas classes too started in 1996. There were also a few teachers from the Hogar del Niño Jesús college who participated in a seminar on Human Values that was offered by few members of the Organization. This seminar had a profound positive impact and the teachers seemed very interested to implement in their own settings. Some of them even named their classrooms by names of values like Truth Classroom, Love Classroom, etc.

The Sai Retreat in 2004. Its theme - 'Tools in His Mission.'
Last bhajans of the 2007 retreat held in a church

Public meeting in Lima
Musical offering at the Lima public meeting

Based on this success, workshops on Education in Human Values were now conducted not only in Lima , but also in the interior provinces. All the courses for teacher training are offered free, which continues till date. What is more encouraging is that the Ministry of Education of Peru has given their approval for this training, and with their support, there is now a solid group of teacher trainers. With requests flowing in from every part of Peru , seminars on EHV has become a continuous affair now in this country.

Human Values Training for teachers in Cajamarca City
Human Values Training for teachers in Lima

The Sai School in Arequipa

To help disseminate Swami’s message in a more organized manner, the Sai Foundation of Peru was formed in 31 October, 2001 with Juana Torres as its first president. And four years later saw the blossoming of the first Sai School in Peru. In 2005, in the district of Tiabaya, about 1000 km to the south of Lima, the school embarked on its mission to hone young minds in the right direction. The whole project actually started in February, 2003, when 14 devotees from Arequipa, Southern Peru, were in Prasanthi Nilayam and they received a notice that a property that had been in litigation for 40 years had been now returned to its owners. This building was destined to become the Sai School. Now, the free school also has a medical clinic which serves the children and their parents, without any charge. And one devotee from Arequipa who had undergone Human Values training in the Institute of Sathya Sai Education in Thailand became the director of the new school. Once the divine wills, all resources – men, money, and material – fall in place so wonderfully.

Today ‘Educare’ is being imparted in this school and the Sai youth are leading the way. To know to what heights the divine can raise man’s consciousness once He touched his soul, here is the moving story of Walter Bravo Jr. whom we have mentioned earlier in this story.

 
Some of the children of the Arequipa Sai School
 
The kids are having fun in a circle dance

A Touching Testimonial

Walter Bravo Jr., was a unique soul, who had grown up from a little boy who had gone to see Swami in 1979, and was able to attend university and graduate in spite of his difficult physical situation. He left this incredibly touching letter for his family and devotees prior to leaving his body and merging in Sai in 2006, which stands as a testimonial to the divinity within him and is a lesson for every devotee on self-surrender and self-realisation. The letter says,

 


The Moving Letter of Walter Bravo Jr.

“Dear brothers and sisters, and parents, and family.

Carmen confessed that I have autoimmune hepatitis and now the cirrosis has started, so I have decided to write to all so that you can understand how things are with me. First understand that I am tranquil, even more so than before. Sometime ago I wanted verification that I could unite with God. But don’t worry, it is true that I am physically tired because of anemia and the typical pain that accompanies my illness, but I am happy. Carmen and the rest of the family see my expression of fatigue and this may be interpreted as suffering. But this is not the case. My body suffers, but as I would tell Fran and Ciro, one should not pay much attention because the mind wants you to believe that you are the body. But the truth is that I am happy.

Walter Bravo Jr during the Institute
graduate ceremony

Second, it is difficult to understand Him, but even if it seems cruel and hard in this life that He has given, it is really the love of God which is manifesting in all the circumstances. I thank Him for making me remember this. Our family can remember His message and it gives us hope, even if living this illness is difficult, He will not give more pain than what one can resist. I myself have asked Him to give me these trials while I have the blessing to know Him and when it is easier with His help to overcome them.

A little while ago I read where Baba says that if the separation is going to end, there should be no balance pending and no illness either. For me it is marvelous that an additional illness is manifesting because this signifies for me that God is accelerating my karma to make my separation even shorter.

Third, dear parents, brothers and sisters, you should know that this illness has come when I was prepared to receive it. For many years I have been preparing to receive strong pain and those things which I feared at one time, but am now ready to receive them with happiness. It is a wonder to have known all of you and this too makes me happy. My terminal illness makes me happy and when I think of death, it is like something natural that must happen to everyone. It makes me think of God all the time and now I realize how much time I have wasted up to now.

And finally, remember that Baba said I was going to get well and be completely normal, (in the interview when I was a little boy) and for this reason don’t worry about something that will go away with the body. Baba is curing me of my ignorance and this will help others to believe in His grandeur and Divine nature. This is a motive for all to be happy.

Even if Baba does not cure my body, it is not that He is untruthful; it is because He speaks in Divine terms. It is quite possible that the cure which He offered me is not for the body, and if this is the case it is something to celebrate, because that means He will cure me of my ignorance and that I will know my true self.

I want to make it clear with all that I am writing, that I am not trying to imply that I am almost illuminated. I have been able to discover my defects and ego which are still very much a part of me. I am still much attached to my family and to my Sai family too. One can say that this is natural, but we must remember that this attachment comes from identification with the body. This love is because we believe them to be ours, that is their bodies and their minds. This is pure ignorance. So you can see that I still have a lot of changes to make before I can realize God.

But all these trials are appropriate for self improvement. We can take what we learn in the books of Swami’s teachings and apply these to our lives and bring this learning inside our hearts. Then it is a blessing to know these things. We must always return to the truth that we are not the body, the mind or the intellect, rather we are atma, the Self. The atma does not die, or change or decline.

In this way we can always be happy despite what happens to our bodies. Use the body to practice non-attachment. I don’t pray that Swami should cure me or for improved health. This is in Swami’s hands. If you want to pray, and want your prayer to be effective, pray that at the end you will be closer to union with God than at the beginning.

Baba in an interview said to me, ‘Don't worry, be happy’. What would you do if God ordered you to be happy? He doesn’t ask you to do anything that is impossible. In other words the strength to be happy is inside all of us, no matter what might happen. One must try to discover it. The order from Swami was not just for me, it was for my father, who was in the interview, and for all of you who are reading this.

So always be happy, and let Baba bless you and protect you.”

Walter Bravo Jr.

 

 

Love All Through Selfless Service

The metamorphosis that Baba can bring about in an individual is mind-boggling. And everything happens because of His unconditional love and all-encompassing compassion. Once an individual is transformed, his ego begins to diminish and he wants to serve and that’s how many service activities have started in this country. For many years now, there have been regular services like visiting the homes of the elderly, of the blind, as well as homes run by the sisters of Mother Teresa. Devotees also visit psychiatric hospitals, maternity hospitals, and the marginal communities of Balneario de Ventanilla and Virgin de Cocharcas.

The youth, especially for the last eight years, have been serving these poor communities in many different ways. They visit them every week and offer prepared food, distribute clothes, give baskets for new born babies, supply medicines, gift toys to the kids, arrange Christmas parties and recreational activities, also present tape recorders to the blind, furniture and school supplies for students, organize human values dramas, and also more importantly, educate them on personal hygiene such as bathing, hair cuts, trimming nails, and dental service.

Service to Lima's homeless people
This family finally receives help

Medical seva is an ongoing project
Podiatric care for the elderly

Selfless service, their unflinching faith on the divine, their zeal to spread human values and spread His word and message through public meetings has what brought so many people into the Sai fold in this country and conferred them with comfort and peace. To date, the Peruvian Organization has been operating for three decades with its current headquarters in Lima . There are four centres in the capital city of Lima , and many others in important cities like Arequipa , Cajamarca, and Trujillo. But if there is one activity that the Sai group loves to do, that is - singing His name passionately. The Peruvians love Sai Bhajans, and they have been blessed with sublime experiences too.

Youth present a drama to portray human values
Helping children with special needs in Trujillo

Purity and Devotion – Peruvians Priceless Assets

One day at 10 am in Prashanti Nilayam, a group of devotees from Latin America had met in the shade of one of the round buildings in order to sing bhajans. And they were in bliss singing: “Sathya Sai Baba, Sathya Sai Baba…llora mi corazón por tener tu Darshan; el Padre de los Padres, Sathya Sai Baba”. And while they were singing, to their pleasant surprise, they saw Swami’s little red car stop just where they were seated. Swami even got out of the car, and the devotees continued to sing in ecstasy. The Loving Lord then started keeping rhythm with His hand to the joy of the devotees. Swami then asked if they were from Argentina and when they replied that they were from Latin America and Spain , His face was radiant and He told them, “Be very happy, very happy.” Needless to say, they were filled with bliss. Swami even asked for their letters and gave them padanamaskaram, (the chance to touch His feet). Not only this, He stood there signing photos for a few too! And finally, when He got into His car having blessed each one profusely, He smiled sweetly and waved good bye to all. What a blissful day that was for a chosen few. It is said in the scriptures that God installs Himself there, wherever His glory is sung with a pure heart. And it is this purity of their hearts combined with their perseverance to love and serve that has drawn upon them such priceless blessings.

 
   

Today Swami’s glory is sung through the length and breadth of this divinely blessed country and one knows for sure in times to come every Peruvian will rejoice when he realizes that the ‘Lord of Miracles’ he has been worshipping for decades is now here on earth, and all they have to do is open their hearts to the Pure Love of Sai and fill themselves with inexplicable bliss.

- Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 5 Issue 08 - AUGUST 2007
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