Volume 7 - Issue 01
JANUARY - 2009
…in the United States and in our unique personalities
By Mr. Robert A. Bozzani
One of the more beautiful aspects of my relationship with Swami is the complete care He took to ensure that I received not just His teachings, but also the ambience to practice the same.
What I refer to here is the blossoming of the Sai Movement that America was witnessing just about that time, when I came to see Him first in the early 1970s. [Read “How Swami U-turned My Life from the December 2008 issue].
And I can only thank Swami not just for initiating me into the Sai-ward path, but also for fostering my spiritual growth in the company of like-minded spiritual aspirants such as Dr. John Hislop, Charles Penn and a few others - all of whom were early comers to Sathya Sai Baba from the West. It felt like we were all classmates in the ‘ Divine School’, and to me, that was a great relationship.
Not just that, each one of them, in their own way, was a sterling example of the goodness and godliness that Baba taught, and that provided me with the necessary motivation and impetus to trudge on my newly chosen path.
Dr. John Hislop – The Pioneer of the American Sai Organisation
America saw its first Sri Sathya Sai Organisation centre under Dr. John “Jack” Hislop. He was a staunch devotee of Baba, and played a premier role in the expansion of Sathya Sai Organisation in the USA.
Dr. Hislop embodied Swami’s teachings to the fullest, as I saw it. It was he who inculcated a strong sense of discipline amongst us as a very necessary step for the organisation to get started and running.
Indeed, Swami knew whom He was appointing for the task! For, the Sai Organisation rests on the bastion of a spiritually synchronised code of conduct, and we, in America, owe that to Dr. Hislop.
In 1975, there were only about three to four Sai centers. I was, supposedly, one of the region coordinators along with two others. The main Sai center was in Mrs. Elsie Cowan’s house in Tustin, California.
There was one centre in Sandweiss' house. So, those were the two important ones. Apart from these, San Francisco and New York had one Sai center each. It was at these Sai centers that I got to know more people.
The Penns – The “Love” Messengers
Charles and Faith Penn were among the most wonderful people I met. I got to know them because they would come to the Sai get-togethers when we would have retreats and conferences. And all they would talk about was Love. They would have a meditation, and then they would get up and talk about the Love of Sathya Sai Baba and the poor.
I still remember distinctly, that first time at the retreat; I was very disturbed. I said, “What is this talk about love? Let’s get to work and make the changes necessary!” I really laugh at myself when I think of it now, because I’ve understood over the years that it was the Penns’ message which was the most important of all! And understanding that message of Love was crucial to the perception and implementation of Baba’s teachings. In fact, Charles Penn was really the first in the United States to introduce Sathya Sai Baba to the United States, because he had come to Swami as early as 1969.
The Movement Gains Momentum…
Talking of the seventies, word was spreading progressively of the ‘holy’ man and teacher in distant India. And there were a host of others apart from Dr. Hislop and the Penns, who pitched in their bit to spread that word.
People like Walter and Elsie Cowan, Indra Devi, and Mrs. Raja Gopala in Ojai did a lot for His mission.
Then, there was another lady, Hilder Charlton in New York. She served as a catalyst to the Sai Movement in New York. Once a week, she would organise a bhajan-cum-speech session wherein she would talk about Sathya Sai Baba, His life and teachings.
And these sessions would attract a lot of young people who were seeking meaning in their lives. Many of those early youth hitch-hiked to see Swami in the early 70s and He let them live in His ashram.So, she too played a crucial role to introduce Swami to United States.
The Cowans – The Chosen Instruments
The Cowans were yet another important link in the network of Sai devotees in the America of the 70s. They were important to me, personally, because, when I returned to America from my first visit to Puttaparthi, I just felt that I had to go to a Sai center.
And so, I drove a long way to Tustin at Elsie’s house, just to enjoy bhajans for an hour or so; this gave me enough ‘charge’ to ‘return’ to the world for another week. Elsie was always so loving and sweet to everybody; but at the same time, she was very dynamic when it came to her devotion to Swami. A lot of people would come to them; in fact, more so, when they heard the story of Walter Cowan’s resurrection by Swami.
Walter Cowan had been declared clinically ‘dead’ by the doctors in Madras (now Chennai). But Swami brought him back to life, saying that he still had a role to play in His mission; that’s when the Cowans started the Sai Book Center in Tustin. They sought permission to reprint the first “Sathya Sai Speaks” because back then, in America, it was difficult to get them. And so, they reprinted these books and set up a process to distribute them in the United Sates - all in the backyard of their house and in their garage. And, when Walter passed away, Elsie built the book center.
Even today, the book center runs on a purely honorary basis, with no salaries. We do our best to sell the books on Swami at the lowest price possible, on a “No profit, No loss” basis. And that is a very important thing for the people too, to realise that around Sai activities there is no money collected, and that the Sathya Sai Organisation works purely out of love and service, never for any monetary gains.
Thus, the Cowans too, through their book center, played a decisive role in disseminating Swami’s message and glory. It is also interesting to note how a lot of people got to know Swami through Indra Devi and Hata Yoga coevally.
Sai Movement in the USA on a Strong Footing in the 80's
Gradually, the Sathya Sai Organisation began to take deep roots in America, thanks to all the travelling that Charles Penn and Dr. Hislop did, to spread His word. And Swami was ensuring all the time that He prepared more and more ‘instruments’ for the American chapter of His Mission.
Next into the picture, came Dr. Michael Goldstein and Dr. Samuel Sandweiss. In fact, Sandweiss probably has the oldest center running in United States at the same place.
I was quite fortunate to interact with all these stalwarts. For, they were Swami’s instruments to begin to let people know that He was here, in the United States.
Over the years, more Sai centers sprang up. And then, later on in the 80s, when brothers and sisters from India, who were in the United States, started coming to the Sai centers, these centers blossomed really faster.
The Sri Sathya Sai Organisation grew in its reach and magnitude, and transformed the lives of the people it touched. Not just that, it also engineered the spiritual progress of the individuals who were already part and parcel of its fabric.
I, as a person, felt its deep and abiding influence in my life too. It not only gave me the ambience to practice Swami’s teachings, but also helped me to understand and unravel Swami’s message better, especially Swami’s message of Love.
Making ‘Love’ Work
The greatest problem of humanity today is poverty of love. And I’ve always felt that a lot of unhappiness and agitation we find in the world today has to do with just that – want of love.
So, I feel very fortunate when I know that Swami has been grasping my heart and opening it more and more – to encompass all that I can see and feel. And love is not limited to our family or workplace. It is not enough if we merely kindle the ‘feeling’ of love.
For instance, when we tell ourselves – “we are going to love our family”, or that, “when I am working in Sai organisation, I should practice love there” That is not right. Wherever we are, every single moment, we must be ‘love in action’. Love is best expressed when put in action. And it is just that. The best way to do it over and over again is watch how we act; there is no other way.
When we are faced with, what we think is a hostile person/situation, we tend to go with it, and attack. But what we all need to learn is to go the other way around, through the path of love, instead of finding fault with the ‘other’ and taking an offensive stance. That’s because, ultimately, everybody is looking for Love; that ‘lovelessness’ is the real problem.
I have had moments when I have experienced the extra-ordinary power of Love even in the most mundane of things. For instance, when I go out to do an errand on certain mornings and I find a clerk who is simply unhappy, I do my best to smile and send love by how I act, rather than complain about things. And that action of love generates an aquifer of energy that keeps me going cheerful and buoyant the whole day.
I sometimes think how wonderful it would be if we all had the ability to address the other person as “My dear embodiment of love…” instead of “Mr. So-and-So”. Just the way Swami does! The mere act of addressing someone with love, generates so much of happiness and good-will that there can be no trace or scope for ill feelings. And that is exactly what Swami wants us to do – to give Love.
There are times when we just can’t do that. But it is at such times, if we really open our hearts, we can feel Swami at that moment! Even if we can’t ‘feel’ the love, we can, at least ‘think’ it, saying mentally to the other person, “Although you upset me, personally, I love you.” And when we do that, we feel His presence! Even if we get angry, Swami is there; He is a good witness.
The incident of Phyllis Crystal and the hijacker is a perfect example of the sort of magical effect that Love can have. A long-standing devotee of Sathya Sai Baba, Phyllis Crystal shares the message of love with youngsters and adults alike, even today, in her talks.
She tells people – “If you can’t love, ask God to help you.” For that is what she did once, when hijacked on a plane. Threatened at gunpoint, and probably counting what were the last moments of her life, Phyllis Crystal mentally prayed to Sathya Sai Baba for succour.
In that moment of intense prayer, she felt Swami telling her to ‘Love those people’! But the hijackers were people who were mean, angry and upset. Distressed and angry herself, Phyllis realised she just couldn’t do that.
Being honest to herself, she started praying to Swami again, “Swami, ‘I’ can’t send them (the hijackers) love, these people are cruel… but Swami, please send ‘Your’ love through me to them.” And she prayed that way, over and over again. When she did that, peace came to the aeroplane, and they weren’t harmed!
It does not end there. Later on, Phyllis Crystal verified that incident with Swami in her next trip to Puttaparthi. And Bhagavan confirmed that when she had prayed for His love and opened her heart, it was that Love which had changed the hijackers’ hearts and transformed the whole situation.
Living a Life of Love…
We need to feel and express Love; a love that stems not merely from the lips, but from our hearts, a love that is felt from the depths of our beings rather than recited in a humdrum fashion. For instance, we chant the Universal Prayer of Peace – ‘Samasta Lokaha Sukhino Bhavantu’ (May all beings in all the worlds be happy), thrice, at the end of bhajan sessions.
We do it pretty routinely like a tape recorder. If, for a moment, we did it with an intense feeling, and with the thought – “Swami, the world is in deep trouble due to absence of Love. Please, may this prayer of mine move You, and quell, to some extent, the agitation in the minds of the people, so that there is greater love” – it would naturally have a greater and long-lasting effect. For Love and beauty lie in the eyes of the beholder, not in the beheld; in the Drishti (Vision), not in the Srushti (Creation).
When we see something that we don’t like or relish, the fault lies in our outlook. And we must rise above that. This is what Swami means when He talks of ‘Reflection, Reaction and Resound’, and the need to put our perspective in place. There is no right or wrong. Everything is God.
I have asked Swami, for years, to make me rise above my judgmental point of view, which we all, as humans, are prone to take. And I can, with all my heart, say that, fortunately, I am getting there, even if I am not there. I can truthfully say that when I am not comfortable with a particular situation or somebody, I can, in my heart, send them Love, Swami’s Love, which is God’s Love.
I can do that, and I can pray for them hoping that all is well with them; that they finally will get the message, whatever be the outcome, as long as I am Loving rather than Complaining about their actions. Because when we complain about something, that something is within us. That has been my experience, and to me, it’s gotten right – ‘What I See is what I Am’.
What is more, I have never felt better or younger in all of this life as I feel now. And I can only express my gratitude to Swami for His beautiful message of Love, and the opportunity to share my experiences with that message of love. Not only because I am the one who is most benefited in recounting my stories and experiences, but also because, when we share our experiences with each other, we are transported to an ineffable state of Love, Happiness and Bliss, that is verily, the nature of God.
Vol 7 Issue 01 - JANUARY 2009
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