RADIO SAI STUDY CIRCLE – PART 03
Sayeeshwaraya Vidhmahe Sathya Devaya Deemahi
Tanna Sarva Prachodayath
Om Shanthi Shanthi Shantihi
Welcome to the third episode of Radio Sai Study Circle. Before we get started, we would first like to thank you for your encouraging emails about this programme. For instance, Mrs. Jyothi Ramachandran has written saying her heart was filled with joy when her 15 year old daughter found this programme very interesting and asked if there was another study circle to listen when she wanted to take a break from her studies! Mr. Morgan Avilgar from Denmark said that listening to the study circle brought tears of joy to his eyes.
While we received many such positive feedbacks on the programme, the most moving mail was from a senior alumnus Mr. B. Ramachandran. Unfortunately, he is suffering from a rare condition called motor neuron disease, which is incurable. He wrote to us saying that he has lost the faculty of speech, movement of his arms and is barely able to walk. Obviously, he was very depressed. But after he heard the study circle, he says his outlook towards life has changed. He has now completely surrendered to Swami! In fact, after we received this email Mr. Srirangarajan, who is the moderator of our Study Circles, sent out emails to other alumni who are in Chennai. Soon many of them gathered at his home and started doing bhajans and chanting mantras and helped lift Mr. Ramachandran’s spirits even more.
We are therefore happy to offer this programme as we feel it is helping you in some way. As in the previous episodes, there are four alumni participating in this panel discussion three of whom - Amey Deshpande (AD), Sai Giridhar (SG) and K. M. Ganesh (KM) - are research scholars in Bhagawan’s University. Bishu Prusty (BP), the fourth, serves at Radio Sai. It is moderated by Mr. G. S. Srirangarajan (GSS), also an alumnus, who is currently the Controller of Examinations in the same University.
GSS: Sairam to all of you! This time too let us take a Chinna Katha (small story) of Bhagawan and it is the story a merchant who as Swami says was a pseudo religious person, leveraged on God no doubt but for his own personal benefits. He owned a grocery shop and had four children. He was very smart too. He knew that it was always desirable to chant the name of the Lord during the last moments of one’s life. So, he thought the best way to do that was to name his four children with the names of Gods. This way he thought he would invariably call God’s name on his deathbed! Therefore He named his children Rama, Krishna, Govinda and Vasudeva.
Cutting the story short, there came the final moments of his life and he called out ‘Rama’ and that son came running; when he cried out ‘Krishna’, the second son hurried to his presence. Same with ‘Vasudeva’. Finally when he asked for ‘Govinda’ the last son too arrived to his bedside. But this is where destiny played its part. Even after he had called out all his four sons’ names, he did not die. Seeing his four sons surround him, his next thought was about the shop. He immediately asked who was at the grocery shop if all of them were with him. And as fate would have it, it was at that precise moment that he passed away! As Swami says, one cannot really outsmart God.
Basically there are three themes that emerge from this story: One, the power of chanting the name of the Lord. Two, we need to start early as we cannot possibly take the name of the Lord on our lips in our last moment without adequate practice and preparation. Three, no one can outmanoeuvre God; He is the Creator.
AD: But first, why is it necessary to take the name of the Lord? In my little understanding, I feel that taking the chanting His name is in reality being absolutely positive every moment of your life. The Lord’s name actually stands out for everything that symbolises Truth, Beauty and Goodness. When you think of anything that is connected with God; any epithet that is associated with Him, it only suffuses you with positive thoughts of joy, optimism and hope. So what really Bhagawan is telling us through this story is to think of something positive in our life, preferably the name of the Lord. Besides, His name itself has got a very potent vibration associated with it.
SG: There is another beautiful perspective given by Sri Sureshwaracharya about why we should constantly think of God or take His name. He was a disciple of Sri Adi Shankara and was better known as Mandan Mishra. He wrote a wonderful treatise called ‘Naishkarma Siddhi’ in which he explains that for us to be aware of anything, we need to have two things. One, the object of awareness and second, thoughts associated with the object of awareness. For example, a lot of people may wonder why if God is present everywhere, we aren’t aware of Him?
The simple answer which Sri Sureshwaracharya gives is that when we walk on the road we find a stone and we trip over it. Why? Are we not aware of the stone? No. It is only absent-mindedness! That is, thoughts associated with the stone are not there, though the stone is there. Either we have seen and not thought about it because we are distracted; or we have not seen it. Now he says when we walk on the road and see the stone, there immediately is a thought that tells us about the stone. This would help us walk around it! In the same way, he says, God, the object of awareness is present everywhere all the time. For us to become aware of Him, we need to have thoughts associated with God. That will dawn the awareness of God in our day to day life.
KM: That is where comes the importance of consciously training our mind because an untrained mind can sweep one’s entire personality. I am reminded of the story of a master and his genie. This genie could perform Herculean tasks in a matter of no time. But this extraordinary being put a condition. He said that if the master gave him even one second of freedom, he would kill him. This meant that the master had to keep the genie engaged all the while. While it seemed easy in the beginning, very soon the master started running short of tasks.
BP: Out of chores to delegate?
KM:Yeah completely! Finally, the master came up with a beautiful idea. He sent the genie to a pole and asked him to climb up and down till asked to stop or given another work. Thus the master managed to save his skin. Our minds too aren’t much different from this genie, continuously seeking some work or the other. If we don’t keep the mind engaged in the right channel, there is every possibility of it taking over our personalities. And that is where the importance of Namasmarana, the chanting of the Lord’s name, shines forth. By constantly repeating His name, we direct our mind and its attention or focus towards our Ishta Devatha (our chosen form of God).
GSS:In fact, Bhagawan says that we should consider His form as the pole and keep the mind on Him constantly.
KM:By doing Namasmarana we can keep the mind engaged.
BP: Actually Ganesh, as you are narrating this tale, I can’t stop comparing the genie to my monkey mind! What you said happens to me all the time.
GSS: Make it ‘our monkey minds’! Guess we all share the same problem!
BP: However, thanks to my good upbringing, I try to engage my genie of a mind by always chanting some mantra. Say, if I am walking on the road, or not doing something that involves deep focus, I am constantly chanting a mantra - the Gayathri Mantra or the Sai Gayathri. And I have noticed that while I am so engaged if something untoward happens, like suppose I slip or fall, immediately I call out ‘Swami’! It is His name that comes out of my mouth! It is never ‘ouch’ or ‘sorry’ or anything else! Even when I sneeze, I don’t say ‘excuse me’! What I immediately utter is ‘Swami’! And whenever this happens I so feel happy.
GSS: Bishu, I appreciate your saying that you feel happy! But many students tell me that they do chant the name of the Lord, but somehow it doesn’t give them the sweetness! And so they find it difficult to sustain. We know the scriptures say that the Lord’s name is very sweet, sweeter than sugar cane juice and so on. But why is it that they do not experience the sweetness?
SG: I heard Sri Murari Bapuji, who hails from Gujarat. In one his many discourses on Ramayana he says that the name of the Lord is absolutely suffused with great joy and nectarine sweetness. But if we are demotivated, in the sense that we don’t feel the sweetness of the Lord’s name, we are not to blame the Lord’s name for it. It is in fact our own malady, accumulated over births together, that is to be found fault with.
BP: The iron doesn’t get attracted to the magnet because of the dust and rust in the iron.
SG: Very true. It is not the mistake of the magnet, isn’t it? So he says that if we keep taking the Lord’s name, it acts as a medicine. The very next time we take His name after we are cured of the Samsara, the malady of worldly existence, we will be filled with joy and bliss.
GSS:: Wonderful. Now let me ask you Amey. As a bhajan singer, you sing everyday in the proximity of the Lord. You must have experienced this sweetness!
AD: You are right. I should have long ago experienced it! But I must confess that in fact it has been only very lately that I have really started enjoying every word of the bhajans. I have noticed that when we actually concentrate on each and every word of the beautiful name of the Lord in the bhajans, I find it almost impossible to complete the bhajan - tears just well into my eyes, making it difficult to complete the bhajan. Here I am tempted to narrate to you a very powerful technique that we can all use when we sing bhajans. This can help us all get in tune with the bhaava (feeling) of the bhajan. For example, let us take the bhajan ‘Nandalaala, Nandalaala.......’ A good-hearted gentleman once told me that we should try to develop a story with the bhajan. So I just tried this out and it goes something like this:
It’s been a long time since Bhagawan has spoken to us. He doesn’t come into our dreams and we don’t get those beautiful moments that we always wanted to get. It is a very painful thing, isn’t it?
GSS: Yes, we can empathise with that!
AD: So here you are sitting at the gate of the Prasanthi Mandir and Bhagawan comes out for darshan and yet another time He does not speak to you or look to your side. And even as He passes by, you are not able to take it anymore and just burst out singing ‘Nandalaala, Nandalaala…’. And so having heard your shout, He turns back and looks at you and says, ‘Emira? (What?), What do you want?’ ‘Daya Karo Bhagawan….’ (Oh Lord! Please have compassion on me!) And the Lord is touched by your prayer and He walks towards you and says, “What do you want?” “Bhava saagar se paar utharo” (Take me across the ocean of Samsara) and Bhagawan in His inimitable style says, “What?” ‘Daya karo Bhagawan…’ (Oh Lord! Please have compassion on me. Don’t leave me like this.) Now the heart of the Lord is melted. He is hugging and caressing you, and you hold on to His feet and say ‘Tumhari Charan Bin Anaath Hai Hum…’ (Lord, without the refuge at Your feet we are orphaned; we have no other refuge to go.) Bhagawan is now so touched and He is now smiling at you. The bhajan culminates with ‘Daya Karo Bhagawan…’ (Continue to shower your Love please).
GSS: That is really very touching and I never knew it could enrich the experience of singing bhajans!
BP: A beautiful story!
GSS: Having talked about the power of the name of the Lord, which I am sure is very clear now; let us come to the next part, which is - Start Early. Now let me share a very embarrassing experience, but something from which we can learn from. This happened almost a decade ago. It was returning in a bus from the Whitefield Ashram. It so happened that the conductor and the driver got down for some work and the gear slipped into neutral. Since the bus was in a slope, it slowly started rolling backwards. There were a couple of us inside the bus. But the first thing that came to my mind was to somehow rush out of the vehicle. Believe me, there was no ‘Sai Ram’; no intention of saving the other passengers in the bus. All I did was rush between them to get out of it.
But then when I introspected, I realised how tough it is to get the name of the Lord at these times. That is why I think the next important thing is ‘starting early’, which basically is conditioning the mind. If you see our own ancient culture, the ritual of Upanayanam or the Brahmopadesam was performed at the age of seven. It is the sacred thread ceremony - the formal entry of the child to education. Now, what education? Giving him the knowledge of the Brahman! Brahmopadesam! That is how children learn languages also at that age. It is during this formative age – when the child is about seven – when you can condition the mind. That is when the Namasmarana should begin.
BP: In fact Swami explains this through a beautiful example of the snake guard and the stone. He says the snake guard if left alone grows crooked. That is what its nature is. The gardener however circumvents that by tying a heavy stone at its one end so that as the snake guard becomes longer, it grows straight. Similarly, Swami says the mind of the youth has the tendency to go wayward and crooked, thanks to the so-called modernisation and all its evils. For instance, the other day, I was shocked to hear on BBC about this young boy who committed suicide because of cyber bullying. In fact that was the first time I even heard the term ‘cyber-bullying’.
GSS: Oh my God!
BP: It’s really sad that bullying continues even after school hours and has spread its ugly tentacles into the cyber space as well. The boy must have been so harassed! Now why did this happen? The guys who were bullying the kid had a false sense of right and wrong. Their adventurous spirit and creativity was all misdirected.
GSS: So basically Bishu, what you are saying is they should tie the stone of Namasmarana at a young age.
BP: Correct. Namasmarana, Love for God, discipline – we have all these stones.
GSS: Bishu, I agree; but that is really tough. At least that is what we hear from most people. I am sure even the snake guard must be finding it very difficult to have the stone being tied to it, is it not?
BP: Yes. But that is what makes a huge difference.
KM: That is why we have to understand what the starting problem is! Many people have a ‘starting problem’. Most of the seekers, in fact more than 95 per cent of them, give up their efforts toward their self improvement at a very early stage of their sadhana. So what do we do? One example perhaps which will give a very powerful insight to this problem is that of the rocket launch. The fact, which most of us do not know is that the amount of fuel that the rocket consumes to break out of earth’s gravitational pull right at the beginning of its journey is much more than the fuel it consumes in the rest of its journey that may span thousands of miles. In rocket science, they call it ‘achieving escape velocity.’ In our sadhana too, it is only in the beginning that we have to put tremendous conscious efforts to set ourselves free of our old patterns. Most of us give up in the beginning thinking that the path of spirituality is too taxing and bothersome. But we should realise that just like the rocket that enjoys the lightness of the freedom of the space, we too will experience the same, provided we are determined and persevering in the beginning.
GSS: So reaching the critical point is very important!
AD: For that matter, take any sport or fine arts. The maximum effort that you need to put is in the beginning; that is, in the formative years.
BP: Efforts are constantly needed, but maximum effort needs to be put in the initial stage.
AD: Exactly! For example, I am a very big sports fan, and I have heard Sachin Tendulkar, the famous cricketer from India, say that he used to practice for 10 hours a day in between the matches when he was 12 and 13 years of age. He said during the last World Cup that he almost reached a point when he felt he didn’t really need any practice. He was confident that he was very good.
SG: That is the flow! Very spontaneous!
KM: So, basically, one needs to put in maximum efforts in the beginning. And that effort is what will really take you through the rest of the journey.
GSS: In fact there is a humorous story that Swami talks about on the importance of starting early. He gives the example of traditional people in South India who eat on banana leaves. It is normal practice to serve the food and then chant Brahmarpanam… to offer the food to the Lord. Swami says instead of doing that if one were to eat all the food and offer the torn leaf to God, most of us would feel it is blasphemous, right? However, that is exactly what we are all doing. He says we wait till the end of our lives, when our sense organs are weak and our body is almost about to die, to offer our lives to God! Isn’t it ridiculous?
KM: That is because most of us are in our comfort zones wherever we are. It reminds me of a very interesting conversation between an atheist and a theist. The atheist was continuously discouraging the God-believer by criticising him of wasting five minutes of his time every day in prayer. To this, the theist humbly replied, “Yes, if God does not exist, I have wasted five minutes of my time every day. But if God really exists, you have wasted your entire life”.
Swami gives the beautiful example of Lord Yama, the God of death. He says that Yama is standing with a camera ready to take our photograph, rather shoot us any moment. He doesn’t say ‘Cheese’ and wait for us to smile or say ‘Sai Ram’ and then clicks! This means, any moment can be our last moment. So, every moment has to be sanctified by His name.
GSS: Hey Bishu, we heard this clip the other day in Bhagawan’s voice.
BP: Why don’t we listen to it right now?
GSS: You have it with you right now? Wonderful!
BP: Yes. Let us hear Him!
Listen to Swami’s Voice
“We cannot decide for how long we can journey in this life. We do not know when – whether in old age or youth or as a teenager – are we going to drop this body. Death alone is certain. If you are intelligent enough, know God right now, in this life time. You do not know when you are going to receive God’s grace?
From the worldly point of view, if you want a picture of yours taken in a camera, the photographer will ask you to stand in front and be alert to when he says ‘ready’ and presses the button. This is the procedure followed by photographers in this world. But in the spiritual path, God would ask you to be ready, and when can we say we are ready? Only when we can picturise Him in our hearts. God wants us to be ever ready. We don’t need to wait to be aged or look for a suitable time; any time is appropriate. We should be ready all the time by thinking of Him always.”
SG: It is so wonderful listening to Swami’s voice! But as Swami tells us about this, I am reminded of a wonderful experience of my classmate’s father. He is a Captain in a merchant navy. Once when he was in the Arabian Sea, they were carrying huge pipes for oil refineries and the lashings, which tie up those pipes, suddenly snapped. The weather then was also pretty bad. The ship began to sink.
You can imagine, it was a hopeless situation. Everybody was running around and crying; it was total chaos. Let me first give you a little bit of background about him. He used to spend six months in sea and an equal number of months of free time in Prasanthi Nilayam in Swami’s presence. So when he realised that it may be his last moment, he decided to go to Swami’s picture in his room and take Vibhuthi, before giving up his life. But when he went to his chamber, there was a big surprise awaiting him. Now, you must all know that chairs and tables in the ship are bolted to the floor so that it doesn’t fall as the ship rocks. But Swami’s photo was kept only on the table. But to his astonishment, despite all the rocking of the ship, the picture was still erect! That is when he got inspiration from Swami and decided to turn the ship against the wave. It is normally a wrong thing to do, but he did that and a huge wave came and hit the ship. Most of these pipes fell into the ocean and some others fell back in place, thus stabilising the ship. All the lives were saved! Even today it is officially recorded that it was a miracle.
GSS:How amazing! And that is how Swami gives you the right intuition provided you have that feeling in your mind. Now we move on to the third part of our Study Circle which is about no short cuts in spirituality.
GSS: Again we come back with this humorous story that Bhagawan tells about a businessman and a pundit, who was giving spiritual discourses. This businessman goes there to attend a so-called package of ten days discourses. He was told that if he attended this course, he would have lots of profits in his business. That’s the way things happen these days! It so happened that on one day – the seventh day – the merchant was supposed to go to the city for a meeting. This meant he would have to skip the discourse. So, he went and asked the pundit what he should do. The scholar told him that maybe instead of him his son could step in and listen to the discourse. The businessman liked the idea and asked his son to attend in his place. However, a day before his last day, he comes running again to the pundit. On enquiry, he confides his concern to the pundit which is: “In case my son attends and after listening to your discourse, develops detachment towards life, what will happen to my business then?”
Well, so much for the spirituality package! Swami tells this in a very funny way. Then the pundit says, “Oh foolish man! You have attended such packages hundreds of times in your life and still you are not able to give up your attachment. Do you think just by attending just one your son will give up the world?” The basic lesson here is that these sorts of things don’t work in spirituality. There is no short cut, none at all.
BP: So, what is important is - right understanding which should come at an early age. Swami gives the example of a kid who has to learn not to put its finger in fire. It can happen in two ways. The child can put its finger in the fire and learn the hard way; or listen to its mother when she says not to put the finger in the fire. This is precisely what is happening with all of us everyday! Swami, our Divine Mother, is telling us to chant God’s name and never forget Him. But what happens more often than not is that we want to put our finger in the fire.
The other day I read an article about an American by name Michael Gates Gill. This person, when he was 53, had everything - the American dream, so to say – a good job in advertising, big house, lovely family and all that. And when he was 63 he was unemployed, divorced, and nearly broke; added to this he had a brain tumour. He needed a pay cheque now; so he took a job in Starbucks, which was paying him $10 an hour. Interestingly, despite the adversities, he says he loves the job. In fact, he has even written a book “How Starbucks Saved My Life”. It might be interesting to know that there is also a Hollywood movie coming up based on this book. Of course, Gill received a huge amount of money as advance. After such a drastic turnaround in fate, someone asked him if he would go back to his posh lifestyle again? The man said no. “I have realised what true priorities in life are. I know when I am serving coffee in Starbucks, I am not serving coffee; I am actually serving people. I have learnt that there is more happiness in having less and in trying to make a difference in someone’s life.”
GSS: This is like learning by putting the hand in fire!
BP: I think many people can relate to this. We learn only after we make mistakes.
AD: But life is too short to commit all the mistakes!
A child learns not to put his hand in the fire by two ways: One, by burning his hand and second, by listening to the advice of its mother. It is wise to follow the latter but more often than not we choose to ‘burn our fingers’ by chasing a posh lifestyle, a plethora of material possessions, power, fame, money and so on, while our Divine Mother Sai repeatedly cautions us that true goals of life which can grant permanent happiness and peace lie elsewhere.
BP: Right, a wise man is one who learns from others mistakes! I think that is what is more important. We have to consciously try from the beginning and understand what our priorities in life are!
AD: Very true! In fact I am getting this very beautiful travel through life, a journey where you move from ‘unconsciously incompetent’ to ‘unconsciously competent’. You have four stages – in the beginning as a child, who doesn’t know how to walk, he is ‘unconsciously incompetent’ that is, you don’t know that you do not know. From there you move on to ‘conscious incompetence’, that is, you start knowing that you do not know (like a child who knows that he does not know how to ride a bicycle). From there he learns how to ride a bicycle but keeps falling; that is the stage when we become ‘consciously competent’. But a time comes when the kid is so good at riding a bicycle that he becomes ‘unconsciously competent’. In this stage, the child can do several things even as he rides the bicycle; he gets that spontaneity. The point is actually to move from ‘unconscious incompetence’ to ‘unconscious competence’.
BP: Lot of jargon here but it has got a beautiful meaning.
KM: I think the best form of this ‘unconscious competence’ is remembering God unconsciously like an auto pilot while you are performing your day to day actions. In the Bhagavad Gita too, Lord Krishna says: Tasmaat Sarveshu Kaaleshu Mamanusmara Yudhyacha, which means, ‘At all times remember Me and fight’. But I was somehow unable to translate this advice of the Lord to Arjuna in my day to day life in my school days for example when I was balancing my chemical equation or working on a project with a strict deadline or even while playing a cricket match with a nail biting finish. Where is the scope in such times to think of God? At the end of the day I used to feel bad because something or the other used to keep me engaged always. It was then that I came across the example of a car driver by Bhagawan.
Swami says the driver may be driving in the busiest of the streets; but we all know that he can talk to the person sitting beside or behind him. He can also at the same time listen to music or bhajans; he may even attend an urgent call or give a cursory glance to some advertisement on the wall. He does all this even while driving on a busy street. If a person can do so many things while driving his car, all the time keeping his attention on the road, which means he is mindful of what is going on in the road, a spiritual seeker too can be mindful of the Presence or the involvement of God in the day to day life, even as he executes his routine assignments.
GSS: Beautiful example!
SG: In fact Swami gives another example. Our daily assignments are something like that of an actor acting. An actor dons different roles, but is all the time conscious of the fact that he is not that particular character. For example, I played the role of Duryodhana; but (thankfully) I am not one. In fact, Swami corrected and called me as Suyodhana. So, we should be aware of our true self constantly while we do various other activities, just like an actor.
BP: Ganesh and Giridhar, what we mean is that we should constantly keep chanting.
GSS: Keep the name in the background.
BP: But even that might not be easy all the time. For example, if I am writing an exam, I cannot have anything else in the back of my mind. I have to just concentrate on finishing the answers. It could be the same for somebody doing a highly specialised job too.
GSS: For example a pilot, who steers the plane!
BP: Right! For this, Bhagawan has given a solution. He says it is enough and okay if you start the work with a prayer and end it similarly with a prayer. Even if you do only this, Swami says, God will always be in your mind; He will always be part of that whole process. In fact, we started the Study Circle with a prayer.
GSS: And the best way now is to end it with a prayer, right? That is so wonderful! We have had a really good discussion. Just to sum up what we have done - we discussed the power of the name of the Lord; there is no second thought about it. The next aspect emphasised that we have to start early; it is not something, which will come on the lips in the last moment of our life just like that. And finally, there are no short cuts in spirituality and we cannot ever outsmart God. We have to go through this whole process. I think as Bishu correctly pointed out, the best way to end this discussion would be with a prayer. So let us conclude our discussion with the Shanthi mantra:
Om Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthihi
Dear readers, this is an edited transcript of the third episode of our radio series Radio Sai Study Circle. While we definitely enjoyed offering this to you, we would like to know what you feel about this programme. So please do send in your feedback generously to [email protected] Every line you write will help us to know what you would like and give us clues to come up with more such ideas and offerings. We hope and pray to Swami that we can serve you better.