LESSONS FROM THE DIVINE BANKER
By Dr. (Ms.) N. Niranjana
Dr. N. Niranjana is a distinguished faculty member in the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning’s all-women campus at Anantapur. Prior to joining the university’s teaching fraternity in 1975, she was a lecturer for two years at the JSS College in Nanjangud, Mysore District, Karnataka (India). Equipped with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Commerce from the Mysore University, Dr. Niranjana successfully completed her M. Phil in 1985 while simultaneously teaching at the Anantapur College, and thereafter acquired a doctorate in 1990 from the Sri Krishnadevaraya University. In 1995, she rose to the position of Reader in the Sai University’s Faculty of Commerce and is currently a Senior Fellow.
In a Radio Sai interview first aired in April 2010, she spoke of her entry into the Sai fold and the way her subjects - commerce and banking - offer lessons for life and not just for livelihood, as per the inimitable Sai Message! Not many of us know how much Bhagawan has involved Himself in grooming the staff, syllabus and the campus to ensure that the students have an exceptional experiential learning. For this reason, this conversation is highly enlightening. H2H is pleased to bring you select excerpts from that conversation.
A Devotee from the Womb…
Shirdi Sai Baba used to often mention that He brings His devotees from far and near in one way or the other. It could either be through miracles or the curing of diseases or the fulfillment of desires and so on. In my life, Swami brought home the message through an important attribute of God - His Omnipresence.
It all started this way:
From my childhood, Swami made it clear to me that He was constantly watching over me and my actions. Various experiences helped me steadily realize that He was God incarnate.
When I was six months old, my grandfather fell sick and was operated for kidney stones. The doctors removed eight stones. After the surgery, he was all right for some time but suddenly took ill again and the family sent my mother a telegram about his serious condition. At that time, my father was a member of the Shirdi Temple at Devanagere in Karnataka, where I was born.
As soon as my mother received the message, she took the vibhuthi from the dhuni at the Shirdi Sai Temple and left with me to Tumukuru in Karnataka to see her father. To her complete shock, by the time we arrived at Tumukuru, my grandfather had already passed away. When my mother saw his body at the mortuary, she was inconsolable. Then, all of a sudden, she noticed tears trickling down my grandfather’s eyes!
Dr. Niranjana with her Divine Master
My mother quickly went near him and began to shake him gently. My grandfather opened his eyes and saw my mother, who then asked him to say something but he could not as he had lost his sense of speech. Then my mother put a little vibhuthi in his mouth and applied some on his forehead and made him say “Sai Baba”. My grandfather took a long time to utter the words. My mother then made a vow that if her father recovered, she would continue worshipping Shirdi Baba and fast on Thursdays. She kept her vow until her death and was fasting even on her deathbed.
Coming back to my grandfather, as my mother was crying and there was general commotion around, the hospital authorities soon arrived at the mortuary. They were shocked to see the dead alive again. This incident happened when my grandfather was 30 or 40 years old and he lived to be a 110!
Early Learnings of His Omnipresence…
One day, my father got a photo of our Swami and gave it to my mother. He said, "See, I heard that Shirdi Baba has come back as Sathya Sai Baba. But, I don’t believe in these things.” My mother kept the photo in her almirah and at night, after everyone went to bed, she would speak to the photo and say, “Have you really come back again as Sathya Sai Baba? Can I see you once again?" When my mother got her first interview with Bhagawan, He confirmed this truth to her.
He told my mother, “Every day after everyone would go to bed, you used to get up and take my photo and speak to me wondering whether I am there or not. See, now I am standing in front of you and your desire is fulfilled.” Once again, he proved His Omnipresence and His constant watch over us. This was in 1966.
In 1968, our entire family visited Puttaparthi. During those days, as the facilities were minimal we had to stay under the trees. During the first two days of our visit, Swami did not notice us. This made my young brother a little restless. In his immaturity, he said, “People say Sathya Sai Baba is for the rich alone and grants interviews only to those who come by car.” He mumbled that we had made a mistake in taking a train to Puttaparthi.
On the third day, Swami called us for an interview. Just before we left the room, He asked my brother, “Did you come by car?”
The question puzzled my brother until I reminded him about his criticism of Swami just two days ago!
In 1973, I joined JSS College (in Nanjangud, Mysore District) as a lecturer. My brother, meanwhile, enrolled himself for B. Com studies in the Brindavan Campus of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. I used to come to Puttaparthi to visit him whenever I could manage some time off from work. One of my visits coincided with the festival of Dussehra. On the third day of the festival, I told my brother, “Every day we eat in the canteen. For a change, why not go to a hotel outside?” My brother said, “As a student of Swami’s College, I cannot come. Swami does not like it.” I did not give up and said, “Don’t be foolish. This is Dussehra time and there is such a crowd. And how would Swami know that we ate in a hotel? Further, in this huge gathering, Swami is surely not going to seek you out and ask you about this?”
After much convincing, my brother gave in to my pressure tactics and we went to the Krishna Bhavan Hotel and ordered masala dosa. Before the waiter could bring us the food, we cancelled the order and asked for paper dosa. It was huge and almost occupied the entire table. After having our meals, we went for darshan and I sat with the general crowd while my brother joined his classmates.
Swami gifting sarees to the students and staff of the Anantapur campus
Swami, who addressed the students from the verandah, asked, “How many of you are going home during holidays after Dussehra?” My brother also raised his hand.
Swami then came to him and said, “How was it – the paper dosa at Krishna Bhavan Hotel?” He went on to say, “Ah, first you ordered masala dosa and then you cancelled the order and asked for paper dosa. Your sister said it was such a long dosa as it occupied almost the entire table. And both of you ate and then came for darshan, didn’t you?”
He continued, “Your sister also said this is Dussehra time and how would Swami come to know that we went out and ate. Didn’t she also say that in this crowd Swami would certainly not come to you and ask you about all this?” Needless to say, my brother was taken aback; he was speechless. Swami then said, “If Swami wishes, He can do anything.”
This was another instance when Swami proved His Omnipresence.
The Road That Led to Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning…
I did not enjoy my tenure at JSS College, which was a co-educational institution because the students’ behavior there was far from appropriate. One day, I was so vexed with their indiscipline that I decided to join Swami's college and bring an end to my trauma.
Strangely, I had a dream that very night when Swami told me, “Come to Anantapur. I will appoint you directly.”
In the morning, when I woke up and shared my dream with my family, my father said, “Don’t be foolish. Will anyone believe a dream and go to Anantapur?” But, I insisted and left for Puttaparthi with my mother and sister.
Swami had also told me in the dream that as soon we would get down from the bus at Puttaparthi, people would tell us that Swami has just left for Anantapur and we must, therefore, take a bus to Anantapur.
Just as Swami had indicated in the dream, at the bus stand in Puttaparthi, we were told about Swami’s visit to Anantapur. So, we took another bus that was bound for Anantapur.
Those days, the campus did not have a compound wall. When we arrived, Swami was ready to leave for a devotee's house and was standing at the portico. I went straight to Him. Seeing me, He asked, "So, you have come?” I said, “Yes Swami, I have come.” He then said, “I am going to a devotee’s house. I will come and talk to you."
Swami inside the Anantapur College - in the initial years of this institution Swami made several visits to
guide the staff and students
The next day, He called me to meet Him. At that time, Mr. K. Chakravarthi was the Collector of Anantapur. He had come to gain Bhagawan’s darshan along with a few more dignitaries. All of us sat on the marble floor.
Swami came to me and asked, “Do you want Me or the Selection Board to conduct your interview?” I said, “Swami, I want only You to conduct my interview.” Swami then started the interview.
At this point, I must tell you that during my tenure as lecturer of JSS College, I used to pray to Bhagawan to be present in my class to help me control the unruly students. To my astonishment, during the interview for a lecturer’s position that day, the first thing Swami did was to bring back the memory! He said, “I know how you used to pray that I must sit in your class and listen to your lectures. But do you know it was you who would sit in the class, while I stood!” His words made me smile but once again, Swami proved He is the Omnipresent Lord!
Then Swami said, “All right, I have conducted your interview. Now, you follow Me.” He took me to the office of Dr. Dakshinamurthy, a scientist who is now no more. He was the Director of our campus back then. Swami introduced me and said, “See, I have already conducted the interview. Give her an appointment order.” Dr. Dakshinamurthy replied, “No Swami, appointment order cannot be given to her as she is already working in another college. Certain formalities need to be observed."
Swami then said, “She is a non-Telugu person and has to learn this language here. How much time will you give her?” Dr. Dakshinamurthy said, “One month.” Swami immediately asked him, “Have you learnt any language in a month?” He said, “No.” To that Swami said, “Then how can you ask her to learn this language in one month? Give her six months and you will see how proficient she will become in this language.” With His blessings, I could pick up the language easily and now I feel at ease with this tongue.
After I joined the institute, I could not adjust for some time. Dr. Subbamma was the Warden then. Every night at bedtime, I would go to the bathroom and cry. I would repeatedly plead with Swami in my mind saying, “Swami! I can’t adjust here… I can’t adjust here.” This was because I did not know the language, while the food and atmosphere were unfamiliar. Subsequently, during my mother’s visit to the campus, Swami told her in an interview, “Paapam (poor thing), she waits for everyone to go to sleep and then goes to the bathroom and cries.” And He added, “I watch her crying.”
I did not need any further proof that Bhagawan is indeed Omnipresent and my faith in Him increased several times over.
Values-integrated Model of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning…
Swami says that education is for life, not merely to earn a living. Clearly, such a philosophy involves a whole new approach to education based on the concept of Educare. Yet, we notice that universities around the world are graded on criteria such as the signing bonuses of their graduates. In this atmosphere of commercialization of university education, a question often arises whether the values-based or values-integrated model that the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning promotes is viable in today’s world.
A value education seminar in the Anantapur campus - Character development has been the constant focus of eah one of Swami's educational institutions
In answering this question, I must once again recall my experience of teaching at my previous college for two years where neither the staff nor the students were interested in any kind of upliftment. The sole intention of every student was to gain a degree from the college; so, they would come to the class and try to grasp only the bare amount of learning that was necessary for securing a pass mark. Unfortunately, the teacher would also focus on this aspect alone.
The college actually gave me a hands-on experience in various aspects of commerce and banking that were the subjects I was required to teach. I learnt how a business venture could be set up in the name of education, how profits are earned and how an entrepreneur uses various ways to earn that money, because that was all that the college was doing – watching the bottom line in terms of profit! There was no focus on values whatsoever. The students were so disinterested in learning that they would sometimes tease the lecturer, including me, saying, “Ha, ha, Harikatha has started!”
In direct contrast, the atmosphere in Swami’s College is completely different, as Bhagawan not only stresses on value education, He also takes personal interest to ensure that the teachings are effectively delivered. I noticed that every aspect of Swami’s College echoed His conviction that education must lead the student from darkness to light and confer humility, selflessness and the high ideals of service.
Bhagawan, the Divine Chancellor…
Once, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to have Bhagawan in our group while framing the curriculum for the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. Swami stayed with us for nearly 1½ hours and guided us on how the syllabus must be developed and how lessons on values must be integrated into the subject matter.
After helping us design the curriculum, Swami turned to me and asked, “Did you understand?” I realized the question came from His intention to know whether we as faculty members were completely convinced and sure of what we were expected to teach the students.
From this, you can actually draw a parallel with the practices we follow in banking. We all know that to open an account, the applicant has to first fill a form and be introduced by an account holder. Once the account is opened, the banker gives the applicant a passbook.
The process is the same with the Universal Banker. With Him, each of us born on this Earth is required to open an account. There is no option here. The introducer is the mother who teaches first to the child the concept of God, prayer, etc.
When we normally deposit money in a bank, we expect an interest on it. We also have faith on the banker regarding the safety of our deposit and the interest accrued.
With God, every thought, word and deed of ours is deposited in our account. Swami says the returns from our deposit depend on our actions - good or bad. Hence, with the Universal Banker, the Karma Theory comes in with the concepts of cause and effect, action and reaction. And, the reaction to a thought, word or deed depends on what we have deposited. If it is good, we get good results. If it is bad, we accrue bad consequences with interest.
Again, just as we have fixed, current and savings deposit in a bank, our deposit with God can also be classified into sanchita karma, prarabdha karma and agami karma.
Sanchita karma is the accumulation of acts from past lives and this life whose results have not yet borne fruit. In prarabdha karma, we are starting to reap the fruit of some of the accumulated karma, good or bad depending on our previous actions. Finally comes agami karma. When one is totally free from all ignorance, suffering and imperfection, and lives only for the sake of God, that is agami karma.
Swami illustrated His point in a very simple manner during my early days at the campus.
During one of His visits to the college, prayers were held followed by a discourse at the auditorium. After He spoke, Swami sang some bhajans. Seeing some girls sitting quiet and not participating in the bhajans, Swami suddenly stopped singing and asked the girls, “Why are you keeping quiet? Why are you neither singing the bhajans nor clapping? You don’t feel shy to dance in the public. Why do you feel diffident to sing God's name and bhajans?”
He then went on to point out that some girls even feel embarrassed to tell others that they were students of the Sri Sathya Sai College. He said, “You should be bold enough to tell everyone that you are a student of this college. It is only your good deeds in your past life that has brought you here. So when someone asks where you are studying, be confident and courageous to say that though they didn’t get the opportunity, it is your punyam (merit) in your previous birth that has brought you here as a student.”
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