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Volume 5 - Issue 02 FEBRUARY 2007
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WITH THE LORD IN THE MOUNTAINS - Part 7

 

 

By Prof. G Venkataraman


I am sorry that last month, due to pressure of work, I had to skip this segment. I hope that what I have to say this time would make amends for that omission. As I sit down at the computer and peer at my notes [I took extensive notes both during my 2003 trip and during the one in 2006], I wonder how I ought to process it. Clearly, there are many ways of doing that and I have decided that I would simply digest it all and squeeze the essence, for in the end that is what is more important from a Spiritual point of view.

Swami – The Divine Conductor

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Brightening the ' Silver Cascade'

In this instalment, I shall offer some reflections on how Swami “conducts” His Kodai trips – I use the word “conducts” in the same spirit in which the word is used in relation to the Conductor of a Symphony Orchestra. If you think about it, in many respects the Kodai visits are like the tour of a famous Orchestra, led by a Divine Maestro!

I believe Swami has visited Kodai as early as the sixties – we even have a rare photo of Swami standing near the Silver Cascade, wearing an overcoat! But the earliest visit of the “new series” [with students] appears to have commenced in the early eighties, when Swami took a small party and stayed in Kodai at the residence of Mr. V. Srinivasan, currently the All India President of the Sri Sathya Sai Organisation.

We have broadcast many times over Radio Sai, Mr. Srinivasan’s moving recalls of this memorable visit; so I shall not repeat those details here. But this much I can say: Basically, there are three “circles” around Swami – the “inner circle of students”, the “middle circle of devotees blessed by Swami to be a part of His group visiting Kodai” and the “outer circle of devotees flocking to have Darshan of the Lord in the Mountains.” Swami’s “symphony orchestra” is conducted in delicate manner as to bring Ananda to all, with, of course, Swami playing the role of the [Divine] Conductor and the students the members of the orchestra. Let me now try and fill in with the details.

Kodai’s ‘Soul’

As you must have already gathered, the “Soul” of the trip is made up of the sessions where Divine intimacy is granted to all present in a thousand different ways. These sessions mostly take place in the small room adjoining Swami’s dining hall in Sai Sruthi. There is a sofa on which Swami sits, and the boys crowd round His feet. Many teachers and elders too sit there, though at the periphery. The ladies sit towards the rear, near the staircase leading up to the upstairs region, where Swami stays and boys sleep. On one side, there is a sofa on which a few elders sit.

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Crowding around the Lord's Lotus Feet
 
The Lord and His little flock

In a sense, it is like the Trayee sessions, which are better known, especially since many more have been privileged to be present there. One important difference is that the Trayee sessions are confined to just about an hour or so, and after they are over, Swami withdraws. In Kodai, it is different; students continue to be with Swami and maybe adjourn for dinner or some other activity.

The Elements of Kodai

There are many segments to the Kodai sessions, and Prof. Anil Kumar has told us in detail how it used to be in the old days. In the late eighties and early nineties, not many devotees used to come to Kodai when Swami went there; maybe about a hundred or so people, mostly foreigners. Now, all that has changed, with people coming in thousands. Correspondingly, there have been major changes to the routine also. In addition, the passage of time produces its own compulsions on the physical body, even for the Avatar. So the number of hours that the boys get to spend with Swami has necessarily come down, but the quality remains as wonderful as ever.

Intimacy Sessions

The intimacy sessions, if I might call them that, can be categorised as follows:

  • Giving-away sessions. During these, Swami just overwhelms everyone by giving away goodies, in a torrential flow; I have described a bit of this earlier.

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    Giving away goodies...
     
    ...to those grateful to receive
  • Next, there are the sessions where one or two people get special attention. This year [2006], it was Mr. Kishore Singhal and his wife [from Canada] who were so blessed. Basically, Swami would start talking about olden times, and in between, He would turn to Mr. Singhal and add a few special notes. For example, there was a lot of talk about Ooty. There used to be a huge estate then, and the building there was once occupied, I believe, by Lord Willingdon, the Viceroy of India himself. When that estate became a part of the Central Trust property, the residence area was renamed Nandanavanam. The Primary School had its beginnings there until it was shifted later to Prashanti Nilayam. Swami would pick up the topic, and old-timers present would immediately pitch in. Lots of nostalgic recalls and in between, Swami would turn to Mr. Kishen, bringing him into the loop by adding various explanatory notes.

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    Swami with Mr. and Mrs. Kishore Singhal
     
    Lord Willingdon
  • Many sessions revolve around recalls, and sometimes, they are very humorous. For example, one day this year Swami recalled an old-timer named Koti Reddy of Kurnool. He used to be a Minister back in the days when the Capital of Andhra was Kurnool [and not Hyderabad as at present]. This gentleman had a huge moustache, and Swami regaled the audience with great stories about how Mr. Reddy first had to adjust his moustache before he could drink coffee or soup! With recalls like this, Swami brought the house down as only He can. Of course, we all thought we were hearing funny stories, but the real point is that Swami was busy giving us Ananda. That is what He did when He mingled with the Gopalas when He and the Gopalas were all out there grazing the cows. He gave the Gopalas Ananda in one way, and He now gives Ananda in many other ways suited to present needs; the style may be different but the goal remains the same. A blessed few realise that the experience is far beyond jokes or narrations of funny incidents. To the chosen ones, a few precious moments are given to feel one with God. Those who realise that aspect and use the experience to better themselves, benefit; others merely add to the collection of stories they have heard from Swami.
  • There are other kinds of intimacy sessions too, and they can be very unpredictable. In 2003, we had one evening when there was a wonderful session with quiz, Bhajan Anthakshari (bhajan quiz) and so on. This year, one evening a proposal was made for a similar program but Swami said ‘no’. The boys who were determined to have a good time, then tried many other possibilities and finally Swami agreed to a mimicry session. The boys imitated all sorts of things, but what stole the show was a mimicry of a cock crowing early in the morning. Even Swami laughed loudly! In fact, He asked for a repeat of the demo! Imagine that, God Himself mixing so freely and in a picnic spirit!

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    Mimicking a train-on-the-tracks
     
    Enjoying the Divine mimicry of life

The subtle point about the intimacy sessions is that they a) give the people concerned a wonderful opportunity to be physically close to the Avatar for an extended period of time, and b) they also offer subtle lessons about how to give Ananda to others. If we watch Swami carefully, He uses all sorts of occasions and even excuses to grant intimacy. Why? To fill us with Ananda!

Spreading Ananda – Doing Our Part

Learning from that, we too must try and see if we can spread Ananda, at least in our neighbourhood to some extent. Just to amplify, these days, many youngsters get trapped into spells of depression – there are so many things that bother them, many of them connected with a deep sense of insecurity. But how many care to spend a few intimate moments with these poor lost souls and talk to them? In fact, one does not even have to talk to them; merely listening to them and giving them an opportunity to unburden themselves is itself a great Seva these days. But do we have the time for all that? Do we ever bother to think why, when the world is in such deep trouble, God in human form is giving us so much personal time? There is a reason. As is said, “He to whom much is given, is expected to give back in equal if not greater measure.”

Does Swami expect us to give anything back to Him personally? Not at all. All He expects from us is that we do our bit in spreading Ananda in whatever way we can. In short, what we get from the Lord, we must distribute in our own way to the wide world; that is a duty and obligation that we ought not to forget, ever. To put it differently, the Ananda we get from Swami is His Prasaadam to us and we must share it with others to the maximum extent possible in every conceivable way.

The Perfect Host

Kodai also gives Swami’s boys an opportunity to see how to play the role of a perfect host. Basically it is all about attending to minute details. Swami makes it a point to take many people with Him. Having undertaken that responsibility, He then bends backwards to see that all the needs of His flock are fully taken care of; He insists on playing the perfect host.

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Playing the part of perfect host
 
Sai Mother feeding Her children

I saw this aspect at its best in 2003. That year, the new Guest House Complex and the attached Canteen had not yet come up, and almost all elders in Swami’s party were put up outside in various houses. Swami went into great detail to ensure that everyone had proper accommodation, that adequate breakfast arrangements had been made for all, that they had the transport to come to and go from Sai Sruthi as needed, and that was also a doctor to attend to emergencies, should they arise. Even laundry arrangements were taken care of. And on the day of departure, Swami personally went into the details of who would go in what vehicle or car, worried about distribution of snacks to the people travelling by the different buses and cars, collection of luggage earlier and taking it direct to the airport, etc. It was an amazing exercise in thoroughness that I hope our boys absorbed in detail.

It is not only “guests” who receive all this loving care; students also do. For example, when He takes them to Kodai, Swami gives them as I have described earlier, many immediate necessities starting with shaving kit, sleeping bags, rugs, sweaters, torches, alarm clocks and so on. He then makes sure they do all the sight-seeing that tourists are supposed to do: going for horse rides, going for boating, and going for shopping [for which He makes sure He gives them a generous allowance!]. It is not merely that He arranges all these but also gives advice as required. For example, when He sends them for boating, He would tell them, “Do not try to row the boat yourself; it calls for experience; so let the boatman do it. Also, do not get up and start walking across the boat; that can tip the balance and all of you might find yourselves in the water!”

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Enjoying the attractions: horseback riding...
 
...and boating

Long before I personally saw this for myself, I had heard many accounts about all these things. In the beginning, I was very thrilled to hear descriptions of these incidents or events, but later I began to wonder: “What on earth has all this got to do with Spirituality?” The answer to that came slowly and that too only after much introspection and enquiry. You see, God is the ultimate teacher. The worldly teacher [like myself] generally prefers to give instructions, with a set of do’s and don’ts. If I want to be modern, then I would do it all with a slick Powerpoint Presentation. But at the end of it all, it boils down to a style going back to Moses and the Vedic seers, giving a package of do’s and don’ts.

Swami Teaches by Example

Now the Vedas declare that the guest must be treated like God. Swami does not teach that hymn. Instead, He gives a demo but people miss the demo! They see but do not observe as Sherlock Holmes would say. If you go back to every one of the Kodai stories, told either by me or someone else, you will find behind it a lesson. Let me now narrate a few so that you get a feel for how God works in a far subtler way than we suppose or imagine.

As I have mentioned earlier, the Kodai sojourn combines “fun” with subtle learning; as one teacher put it neatly, it is a Spiritual Picnic! That sentence gives me an opening to describe a picnic that Swami took His boys for one year during His Kodai trip. Believe it or nor, Swami is a great one for a picnic. The old Chitravathi routine every evening [about which old timers still speak in rapturous tones], was really a daily picnic! In His earlier days, whenever He went to Kodai, Swami would always organise a picnic because He knew that it would give an extra dose of Ananda. In Madras, He used to take people out to the Red Hills for outing.

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Posing in front of a waterfall
 
Beautifying nature

This particular picnic story was narrated to me by some students who were an eyewitness to it. It happened some years ago, and was a picnic not organised by Swami but suggested by some Police Officers posted to Sai Sruthi for security duty by the local administration. Overwhelmed by the Love and compassionate attention that Swami showered on them, these Officers began praying to Swami that He must permit them to take the boys out to a nice spot where they could have a great picnic. After a while, Swami agreed to their plea and a day was fixed for the outing. The vehicles were arranged, the wagons stuffed with eats, and for their part, the boys were ready with all their party games to play out there in the picnic area.

Intentions might be good, but sometimes things might not work the way one wants. On this occasion, the roads were bad and the going really tough. The trip to the scenic spot dragged on and on, making all the boys very frustrated. Finally, after a lot of struggle and a really rough ride, that spot was reached. And when they looked around, the boys could hardly hide their disappointment; the spot selected did not command a grand view as had been promised; the view was anything but fantastic and ill-suited for a nice picnic.

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Protecting our protectors
 
This is heavenly!

Swami knew very well the thoughts racing through the minds of the boys, but beautifully averted a flop ready to occur. He looked around and said, “Hey boys! This is a beautiful spot, is it not?” The boys quickly caught on, and soon the mood was such that the Police Officers who were feeling a bit sheepish for having troubled Swami to travel to a spot less than scenic began to feel better. Swami made them even happier by not only praising their devotion, but also creating rings and so on. Later in the privacy of Sai Sruthi, Swami told the boys, “See, these Officers meant well. They really wanted to please Swami. Maybe they made a wrong choice of place for the picnic, but Swami cares only about the intentions. If they are pure and loving, Swami overlooks physical shortcomings.”

What Matters is Intention, Not Success

I can add this is something very common in Swami. I recall a person telling me about a drama staged by students many years ago. When the cast of actors for the drama was being discussed, Swami suggested that a particular part be given to a certain student. That was done and soon the boys were practicing the play. One afternoon, Swami went along with an elderly devotee to the College to see the rehearsal. Later, Swami asked the elder for comments. The gentleman said, “Swami, on the whole, the boys did a commendable job, but one actor was below par. He did not act well.” He was referring to the person specially selected by Bhagavan. Swami looked at the devotee and said, “I know what you mean. I am aware that his acting abilities are not that good.” The devotee was astonished and asked, “Swami, in that case why did You chose that boy for acting in the drama?” Swami smiled and replied, “You know, that boy is very devoted to Swami and he was desperate to act and show his love for Me. I responded, that is all.” For God, it is not success that matters – after all, He is the one decides on success and failure. What matters to Him is the spirit with which one attempts any task.

Maybe I should use this opportunity to recall an event I personally witnessed. It happened many years ago when Swami went to the College auditorium for some function. Swami was expected to give a Discourse, and as always, some boys had been identified for speaking before Swami gave His Discourse. One of the boys so chosen started off well but soon got lost. Quickly he lost his confidence and very soon became literally speechless. It was very embarrassing for all of us, especially for the boy. Naturally he broke down and began to cry. You know what happened then? Swami called him near, consoled the boy and materialised a chain for him! Is it any wonder God is called Dayanidhi (Ocean of Compassion)?

Service is Pure Love, Not a Duty

Now to another Kodai incident; this happened one year when Swami was in Kodai on Easwaramma day. Occasionally this happens and whenever it does, there is a special Narayana Seva, plus distribution of clothes and blankets for the poor at Sai Sruthi. After the distribution was over, Swami came back inside, but seemed lost in thought. Normally, after such Seva, Swami is usually in an expansive mood and often talks to students about service, etc. This day, He did not and something seemed to be bothering Him, but no one could figure out what exactly it was. Suddenly, Swami called for the car, gave some instructions, took a few people with Him and simply drove out. Swami is known to go out occasionally for a drive while in Kodai, but this clearly was not one of them.

Swami was away for a while, and even as the rest were waiting for His return, there was a lot of speculation as to why He went. After a while, Swami returned, and this time His face was glowing and wearing a big smile. As the boys crowded around Him He said, “Boys, do you know where I have been? I went out to distribute blankets to the old and infirm that could not come here for the Narayana Seva. As I saw the poor people who came here, My thoughts went out to the many old and sick people out there who could not come here. I just could not bear to think of them suffering in the cold. So I had to go, seek them out, and give them the blankets. They were so happy!” How much joy there was in His voice and eyes, even as He spoke those words!! For God, service is not a duty or an obligation. It is an act of Pure Love that gives Him as much joy as it does for the one who receives, if not more.

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Selflessly serving the poor is a joy...
 
...not a duty!

The entire Kodai trip gets punctuated with “small” and occasional incidents like these. At the time they occur, they do not appear more that acts of compassion, but as time goes on, it is these incidents that leave a profound impression on students, drawing them continually to service, long after they leave the University. Many are such stories that teach their own lessons. Here is one that I heard from Sri Sanjay Sahani. This happened many years ago, when Swami decided to have a small dining hall built as an extension to the original Sai Sruthi building. Such a hall was needed because the number of people showing up for lunch and dinner was rapidly increasing over the years.

Building the dining hall needed first some heavy earthwork, in the shape of cutting into the slope of rocks there, and volunteers were deployed, many of them students. Just before this activity commenced, one day when Swami went out for a drive, He saw the police chasing away many vendors who had gathered in front of Sai Sruthi, trying to sell their wares to people coming there. The police were keen to prevent congestion and regulate traffic and that was why they were making efforts to keep the place free of vendors. From the point of facilitating traffic, what they were doing was certainly valuable and important, but the compassionate Lord saw it another way. These poor vendors depended on tourists for their livelihood and tourists came to Kodai only for a couple of months, especially when Sai Baba visited Kodai. So Swami intervened and told the police officers that He was not personally inconvenienced by any means and that perhaps they could let vendors ply their trade. The police officers obliged and the vendors were happy; they were not merely happy but grateful too. And do you know how they showed their gratitude to Swami? By joining the volunteer force during their lunch hour and helping with the excavation! Love begets love; that was another of those lessons.

The Lord is Always Ready to Help

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Kodai - the chance of a lifetime!

Talking of the dining hall construction, I am reminded of another story relating to it that Dr. Sainath told me. He was in the batch of students taken by Swami to Kodai that year and he too was involved in the heavy digging chores. He said it was real tough work, breaking rocks with a heavy crowbar. Doing that for many hours, almost all the boys ended up with big blisters on their hands at the end of the day. And at dinner time, they all had problems eating, because of the blisters. However much they tried to conceal their difficulty, the Good Lord did not fail to notice it and the next day, from somewhere, He managed to produce leather gloves for all them to wear while they did the heavy labour! The Lord is not up there in the clouds far away; He is ever close and also ever ready to help!

There are so many of these stories, but they all add up to just one thing; Kodai may seem like a fun trip but to the seeker, it is always full of lessons, precious lessons that only the Lord can teach. The lucky ones pick up the lessons even while enjoying the stay to the full. For them, Kodai is a rich experience. For the rest, it is a great picnic. As Krishna says, in whatever way devotees approach Him, in that same way He responds. He does that everywhere, in Prashanti and Kodai too!

Jai Sai Ram.

 

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Vol 5 Issue 02 - FEBRAURY 2007
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