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THE NEUROSCIENTIST DISCOVERS NEW LIFE AT HIS FEET

By Dr. P. Shashidharan


Dr. Shashidharan is a Neuroscientist and Associate Professor of Neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York. He first came to Swami's fold in 1987 and since then has visited Prasanthi Nilayam several times. He has also participated and chaired scientific conferences at the Sri Sathya Sai University. An active Sai worker, he has served as President of Sai Center of Flushing in New York, and also as Regional Devotional Coordinator of the Sri Sathya Sai Organisation of the Mid-Atlantic Region.

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Swami and Me Sai Sashi

Reflecting on the bygone days of childhood and youth, religion to me was nothing more than a facade; it was an extension for socializing. Having witnessed people claiming spiritual powers and deceiving the innocents for monetary benefits, only confirmed my belief that religion was a phenomenon concocted by the weak minded. Having grown up in Hyderabad (the capital of Andhra Pradesh), I had heard about Sai Baba.

I strongly and firmly believed if there was God, He cannot be in human form; an idol was more acceptable and in line with what our ancestors have embedded in our minds. I had thought there should be more mystery surrounding such a phenomenon. Any derogatory write up of Sathya Sai Baba satiated my unfounded dislike for this “God”. However, I now realize that it was my ignorance clouding my rational thinking that deprived me of realizing the divinity of the Sai Avatar then.

The Skeptic’s Journey to Sai Begins…

After completing my studies, I went to the United States and a year later I got engaged. I was shocked to learn that my wife and her entire family were staunch devotees of Sathya Sai Baba as revealed by my mother-in-law, but she was magnanimous enough to tell me, “You don’t have to believe in Him, but when you have your divine experiences, don’t deny His divinity”.

She requested me to write a letter to Swami, and since I didn’t want to be disrespectful to her I wrote a single sentence, and mailed it out. The sentence was more of a challenge that I would come and visit Him if the content of my letter materializes. It was the commencement of the divine intervention as things started unfolding in a matter of weeks, but it was conveniently brushed aside by my egoistic mind as coincidental.

My wife’s first request immediately after marriage was to make a trip to Prashanti Nilayam to seek the blessings of Swami. I obliged her, and six days after marriage we flew to Puttaparthi. Upon reaching there I was not very impressed with the ashram life, particularly in the late 80’s, and it was definitely not my idea of a honeymoon. Waiting in the long line for hours to get a good seating for darshan to see my wife’s God was mind-boggling, but the resentment was contained.

Finally, we were ushered in and I was seated in the last row. Swami went around and looked in my direction from a distance, and Swami’s eyes met mine. Swami continued to stare at me, and I felt very uncomfortable, and just wanted Him to go away, but He would not. My super ego was deflated when I offered pranams (obeisance) to Him, and finally He walked away towards the Mandir.

That was my first darshan of Swami. However, the first meeting with the Divine did not have any impact on me at all - at least that was my conviction at that time. Back in USA, I requested my wife not to place Swami’s picture in any place visible in the house, but she could keep His picture in a closet and pray to Him. Without resistance, she complied as she felt strongly that all this would change someday.

Swami and Me Sai Sashi
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One day, in May of 1988, I woke up around five in the morning with a dream of Swami. In the dream, Swami conveyed several messages. I immediately narrated the happening to my wife, and later on to my mother-in-law who lives in Singapore; they were extremely happy. I couldn’t rejoice to a similar degree, as for me it was just a dream. We were living in New Jersey at that time, and as I was driving to work the same day, I noticed a sign that Swami had shown me in the dream; the sign indicated a highway number that was leading to New York.

The following week, I got a call from New York, asking if I was interested in taking up a Fellowship in the Medical Center. I discussed it with my wife and she convinced me to accept the position. What alarmed me even more was the fact that the salary offered was also exactly as was indicated by Swami in the dream, and the offer was more than what was originally advertised. Further, Swami had also indicated to me in the dream that I will never have to look back and there won’t be any competition in my work.

A Dream Comes True!

True to His blessings, I rose to the level of Associate Professor of Neurology, and never had to look back. This was a jolt and I was beginning to see His divinity, but was not convinced enough to accept Him as the Avatar, but this was definitely the initiation into accepting Swami into my life. We moved to New York, and without a second thought, to my surprise I placed Swami’s picture in the altar. On an occasion, when we visited the Hindu temple in New York, my wife was overjoyed to learn that Sai bhajans are conducted in the premises every Sunday, and she was insistent that we go for the bhajans, and hence we started regularly attending the bhajan sessions.

Drawn by the Beauty of Bhajans

 

I voluntarily started learning Sai bhajans and there has been no giving up since then. Music to me now is only Sai bhajans. It is always ringing in my ears and humming in my throat. My quest for bhajans is an obsession that cannot be satiated.

During my wedding, my mother-in-law had indicated to me that I had a good voice and that I should consider singing bhajans. My instant reaction to that was to avoid bhajans! But, despite all these negative notions about religious activities, I had always enjoyed devotional music from a very young age. And now I had this urge to sing bhajans. I voluntarily started learning Sai bhajans and there has been no giving up since then. Music to me now is only Sai bhajans. It is always ringing in my ears and humming in my throat. My quest for bhajans is an obsession that cannot be satiated. Thanks to Radio Sai, now it is round the clock listening to bhajans at home and at work.

Life was moving along and we had two children. We participated in weekly bhajans, and I started taking an active role in the activities of the Sai Group in Flushing, New York. On most days after bhajans, we would meet up with friends to socialise. With the passing of days and getting more and more convinced of Swami’s divinity, I felt a strong urge that we should move beyond bhajans and the small Sai Group should become part of the Sathya Sai Organisation of USA. This, I thought, would enable us to get involved in service activities, Sathya Sai Education programs, and these activities can be done in a more organized manner along the guidelines of the Organisation.

However, this proposition was met with strong opposition from majority of the senior members who did not see any reason for this change. But none of the hindrances could stop my determination to pursue the goal, as I knew that I was just an instrument in His divine hands carrying out His Will. However, at the same time, hurting the sentiments of elders filled me with guilt. I started introspecting whether the course of actions was in any way self-centered and this filled me with anguish and frustration.

Awaiting His Green Light

I needed some sort of positive reinforcement before I could go forward, and so, on a Thursday bhajan session at home I prayed to Swami to show me a sign. The moment I had this thought, a flower from the Padhukas (which was blessed by Swami in 1997) flew into the air and landed on the floor. I couldn’t believe my eyes; I can understand a flower falling from pictures, and explain it is because of gravitational force, but what I witnessed defied the law of gravitation.

Swami had given me the green signal, and all I wanted was His blessings to carry out this mission. With a group of devotees who believed along the same lines, we decided to go forward with the formation of the Center. Swami once again reassured me that I was on the right course by showering the pictures in our altar at home with a viscous liquid (Amrita). This phenomenon lasted for about a week.

 

The flower went up in the air and came down. My wife and sister-in-law were giving chorus to the bhajanSakshath Parabhrama Sai…’ with their eyes closed, and when they opened their eyes they saw the flower on the floor and not on the Padhukas. They thought I dropped the flower on the floor instead of placing it on the Padhukas. When they heard what had happened, they were very happy.

Swami had given me the green signal, and all I wanted was His blessings to carry out this mission. With a group of devotees who believed along the same lines, we decided to go forward with the formation of the Center. Swami once again reassured me that I was on the right course by showering the pictures in our altar at home with a viscous liquid. This phenomenon lasted for about a week. This was the first time I had witnessed such a paranormal phenomenon. As a neuroscientist, I am always in the pursuit of evidence and explanations, but this was happening right before my eyes in my own home, and so, the ‘Doubting Shashi’ had no go but to succumb.

During this exact time, the original Sai Center was closing down, and this came as a blessing in disguise and we immediately agreed to take over this Center, and continue the activities. By Swami’s grace I was chosen as the first President of the Center. But we were still facing a lot of obstacles; when the senior members moved out we lost instrument players and many good lead singers. I wrote a letter on June 25, 2000 to Swami saying, “I am coming to have Your darshan and if I did everything right Swami should speak to me”. I wanted this reassurance once again and this time directly from Swami.

Parthi Pilgrimage to Know His Will

On July 6, 2000, we arrived in Puttaparthi, and since our kids were very small we decided to stay in a cottage outside the ashram. As we were entering the cottage, the porter hit a bush with the suitcase and dislodged a big beehive. Thousands of bees were set loose on us, and I was stung on the hand and near the eyes. Since it was close to 3 pm, we decided to go for darshan, and rushed to Sai Kulwant Hall; it was hot and I was miserable.

I didn’t have time to take medication and my eyes and hand had started swelling. Luckily my son’s plight was not that bad. Somehow I sat through Swami’s darshan. I inferred that I was being taught a lesson for running after physical comforts, and soon realized staying outside the ashram wasn’t a good idea, and since then we always stayed only in the ashram. When I came to terms with ashram life, I found it more peaceful and enjoyable than anywhere else.

Swami and Me Sai Sashi
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Awaiting Swami's call
 

Since it was Guru Poornima time, the whole place was crowded with thousands of devotees and Sai Kulwant hall was packed to capacity; many devotees were actually standing outside. I had my doubts about getting an opportunity to talk to Swami; how will He know me among the tens and thousands of people seated there? I thought. I was fortunate enough to get the first row for the afternoon darshan on July 7.

Swami's boundless Love and Compassion were again in evidence and in abundance. Since there was one more hour for darshan, I decided to write a letter in detail about various matters in particular about the Center. I reasoned that if Swami talks to me I will not have enough time to ask all that I wanted to ask Him.

One of the things I wanted to know was if Swami approved the way we conducted ourselves in the formation of the Center. I needed reassurance in this aspect and this would be ascertained if Swami speaks to me and takes my letter – I was thinking to myself “If He did not then I would take it as an indication that my actions were wrong”. So many conditions and demands from the Lord – liberty one can take only with this Universal Mother!

Swami came for darshan at 3 pm and He took letters from two ladies, and then materialized Vibhuthi for one of them. He came to the men's side, spent a few seconds speaking to the students, materialized Vibhuthi again, now for an elderly gentleman, and then went to the opposite side, towards where we were seated. After a while, Swami turned to return to the Mandir and my heart sank. I thought Swami did not approve of the Center formation – all the previous reassurances were just a figment of my own imagination. As I was thinking this, Swami turned in my direction as though He had heard my thoughts! I prayed silently in my heart "Swami, please come to me and talk to me".

Face to Face with God

Then it all happened, Swami turned around and instead of going to the Mandir, looked in my direction, walked straight to me and then smiled, His eyes fixed on me. I gave a bundle of letters to Him wrapped in a newsletter I was carrying with me for His blessings. Now, with a gentle smile on His lips and in a soft voice, He said in Telugu "okka okkati vidi vidiga ivvammu" (Give the letters, one by one, separately). I unwrapped the newsletter and handed the letters, one at a time, and Swami patiently received each one smiling at me.

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Swami and Me Sai Sashi
 
Seated for Swami's arrival

I was directly facing Swami and looking into His eyes; I was in total bliss, savoring every moment. It was a spectacular moment to directly look into Swami’s face, His crown of hair, and His beautiful and compassionate eyes. He showered on me the love and compassion of a lifetime.

I was dumb founded and forgot myself and all that I wanted to ask Him; thankfully I had put everything that I wanted to ask Him in writing. But in the meanwhile, I gathered courage to ask Swami about a cancer patient. Swami nodded His head and told me He knows all about it and He will take care of her and showed His Abhayahastha (Hand raised in blessing).

Swami then looked at the Young Adults folder that we had made with a young Swami sitting on the lotus. I noticed Swami reading what was written on the folder, and He once again smiled at me in acknowledgement. While this was going on, my brother-in-law (this was his first trip to Puttaparthi) was holding onto Swami's Lotus Feet and enjoying the Padanamaskar to his heart's content.

Before coming to Puttaparthi, he visited Shirdi and was very upset that he could not touch Shirdi Baba’s feet, and my sister-in-law told him to pray to Bhagavan and He will grant his wish, as both Shirdi and Sathya Sai Baba are the same. Swami now amazingly fulfilled my brother-in-law’s wish. Finally, I was at peace and guilt-free. My Universal Mother had shown Her approval in myriad ways, and I needed no further assurance. I was convinced that it was His will that prevailed, and I was merely an instrument in the entire process of formation of the Center.

All the Center activities progressed well, and by Swami’s Grace a young boy joined the Center who was an excellent tabla (percussion) player. The membership grew and became one of the largest Sai Centers in New York. The devotees conducted all activities such as Devotional, SSE classes, Service projects; the Young Adult programs too had good participation. In August 2004, I was nominated as the Regional Devotional Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic region, which has 34 Sai Centers. Initially, I was reluctant to accept it as I had doubts about my spiritual knowledge and ability to take up such a responsible position.

Swami and Me Sai Sashi
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But as always, my Mother Sai never failed me. He again came to reassure this confused, apprehensive child. In the early hours, I had a vision of Swami, in which I heard Swami calling me. He then materialized vibhuti for me. I put the vibhuti on my forehead and ate the rest. As I was walking away from Swami, He called me back saying “Ekda pothunnavu? Ikkadara!” (Where are you going? Come here!). When I approached Swami, He said, “Padanamaskaram theesuko” (Take blessings by touching My feet).

I took Padanamaskar and looked at Swami, and asked if He would grace me with an interview too. Swami said, “Anni oka rojey kavaali, inka okka rojura” (You want everything on the same day; come back another day). This vision of Swami convinced me that I was only an instrument, He is the doer and the position that He has bestowed upon me is His blessings. So, I happily accepted the responsibility.

I have since completed two terms and am immensely grateful for being given this opportunity to serve the Lord. This is greater than any other accolade I will ever receive. It has been a great learning experience and spiritual journey for me.

In 1988, I had a dream of Swami wherein He held my hand and led me to a place where many ritwiks (Vedic priests) were chanting and performing homam (a sacrifice). There were several sacrificial fires set up; such scenes I had seen only in some movies depicting Ramayana or Mahabharata.

 

Finally, I was at peace and guilt-free. My Universal Mother had shown Her approval in myriad ways, and I needed no further assurance. I was convinced that it was His will that prevailed, and I was merely an instrument in the entire process of formation of the Center.

I wondered since the first dream came true whether the second dream would also realise. I was skeptical about it since I didn’t consider myself to be that fortunate to have such close contact with Swami, and re-enactment of scenes seen in epic Ramayana is impossible. It took 18 years for me to see the second dream realise.

A Dream Relived

In August 2006, I was part of an International Scientific Delegation that went to give lectures at Sri Sathya Sai University. Fortunately, during that time, the Athi Rudra Maha Yagna was about to commence in Prasanthi Nilayam. All the delegates were given opportunity to sit in the veranda; I thanked Swami for our great good fortune. On August 7, after I was seated and looked around, I observed the homa gundams (sacrificial pits) being constructed; the whole place was being transformed into a hermitage.

I saw dozens of ritwiks. The whole milieu seemed very familiar to me; it felt as though I had witnessed a ceremony like this before – was it déjà vu? Instantly I recalled my dream in 1988, and was surprised; the entire arrangement around the Mandir was like a replay. However, in the dream Swami held my hand and lead me to the Maha Yagnam (sacrifice) - I started getting goose bumps. I started wondering if Swami would really come near me; will His divine touch be on me for real?

Swami and Me Sai Sashi
Delegates with Shri V. Gokak, Vice Chancellor of Sri Sathya Sai University, August 8, 2006

Next morning (August 8, 2006) the conference was to be inaugurated, and all the delegates were seated in the Mandir veranda waiting for Swami’s darshan. Swami got off near us and we had a wonderful darshan. He spoke to two of the prominent organizers of the Athi Rudra Maha Yagna. In the meanwhile, Prof. Krupanidhi, who was sitting in front of me, turned back and told me if Swami agrees we will go up one by one and seek His blessings before the inauguration of the conference. I waited anxiously as Prof. Krupanidhi spoke to Swami. The Professor looked in my direction and nodded, I immediately stood up and walked towards Swami, but He turned His attention once again to the details of the Yagna and I was asked go back to my place. I was surely disappointed.

Swami and Me Sai Sashi
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I was trying to get up, Swami said “Koorcho” in the form of benediction
 

In a few minutes, Swami stood up and looked in my direction. My hands were folded, but in sign language I asked Swami if I could come to Him. With His Abhayahastha Swami said, “Koorcho” (sit down) and slowly walked towards me. Prof. Krupanidhi introduced me to Swami in a formal way, Swami said, “Chala Santhosham” (very happy), I explained to Swami the research I was conducting and asked for His blessings. He said, “Manchidi, chala Santhosham” (good, very happy). I gave a letter to Swami and in the process touched His divine hands and took Padanamaskar.

 

With His Abhayahastha Swami said, “Koorcho” (sit down) and slowly walked towards me. Prof. Krupanidhi introduced me to Swami in a formal way, Swami said, “Chala Santhosham” (very happy), I explained to Swami the research I was conducting and asked for His blessings. He said, “Manchidi, chala Santhosham” (good, very happy).

Apparently several people took many pictures at that time. However, in none of the pictures I could be seen with Swami, except the one in which Swami was looking at me and I was facing Him. The significance of this picture came to me like a total surprise. Once in the past, I was looking at pictures of devotees taken with Swami. A thought had come to me at that time: that if at all I have an opportunity in this life time to have a picture with Swami, I don’t want to pose with Him but face him.

This subtle thought that came to me was all forgotten and was never mentioned to anyone. When I saw the picture in which I was facing Swami, and not posing with Him, it brought home the message that even the subtlest thoughts are heard by Swami, who resides in our hearts. It was indeed a great blessing to be part of the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam, which was an opportunity of a lifetime although we went in the guise of attending the scientific conference.

After lighting the lamp for the commencement of the Athi Rudra Maha Yagnam, Swami returned to His seat, turned His face, looked at me and smiled. I felt as though Swami was saying to me that the vision I had 18 years ago, was His blessings. If not for the conference, I would not have gone to have Swami’s darshan as I was under tremendous pressure at work. My wife’s belief and faith in Swami is much stronger, and she insisted that I should go and see Swami; she was confident that with His blessings everything will be fine, and indeed Swami did take care of my problems of mundane existence.

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Swami and Me Sai Sashi
 
A dream come true after 18
years: “Facing Swami, not posing with Him”

Swami’s omniscience and omnipresence was once again revealed to me in another dream. On Vijaya Dasami day (October 21, 2007) in the early hours when I had a vision of Swami, He put His right hand on my head and blessed, and then He leaned towards me and whispered in my ears that I ate ham (pork). When I heard this I woke up and looked at the clock; it was 5.15 in the morning. I started reflecting on my dream and realised that when I attended an international meeting a few months ago in Rome, there was a lunch buffet served for the delegates.

After confirming with the Italian server (who did not understand English) that there was no meat in any of the items served on my plate, I started to eat and noticed it didn’t taste vegetarian. An Italian Scientist, who was also a vegetarian, ate the same food by mistake and told me that there was pork in it; I immediately discarded the food. This vision of Swami convinced me that Swami is with me all the time, and that he knows all my thoughts, words and actions. I reasoned that Swami wanted to reinforce my faith by telling an incident from the past that was known only to the Italian scientist and me.

His Ever Present Guidance

Swami’s unconditional love not only changed my outlook towards the world but has also rose to be the guiding force in my personal and professional life. In my professional life, I used to get perturbed when things happened contrary to my expectations, but I started heeding Swami's constant advice of performing to the best of my ability and leave the rest at His Lotus Feet.  At times, my colleagues are surprised at my attitude and sense of equanimity and often mistake it to be lack of enthusiasm. But now I feel more confident in pursuing any task, for now I know that Swami will not only guide me, but also rescue me if the need arises.

Swami and Me Sai Sashi
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Dr. P. Shashidharan
 

Whenever I have encountered difficulties in my work, Swami has guided me, either through some messages or dreams. Swami has said, “Even if you give up on Me, I will not give you up”.  My Lord has and will never fail me. Whatever I have accomplished professionally and personally is nothing more than His sublime Love and grace.

Although I came to Swami very late in my lifetime, I believe it was my previous karma that it took so long to recognize the divinity walking on two feet. Even as a child I believed in all religions being same; they preach the same doctrines and should not be discriminated for their beliefs. Although my parents were non-vegetarians, I refused to eat non-vegetarian food even as a child.

 

I believe all these qualities that developed very early in my childhood, were helpful and laid the ground work in my transformation from a non-believer in Sai to a staunch devotee and a humble instrument in the hands of our beloved Swami. Swami says, “I only echo. If you accept Me and say yes, I too respond and say "yes, yes, yes!" If you deny Me and say "no", I also echo "no". Come, examine, experience, and have faith; that is the method of utilizing Me."

I believe all these qualities that developed very early in my childhood, were helpful and laid the ground work in my transformation from a non-believer in Sai to a staunch devotee and a humble instrument in the hands of our beloved Swami. Swami says, “I only echo. If you accept Me and say yes, I too respond and say "yes, yes, yes!" If you deny Me and say "no", I also echo "no". Come, examine, experience, and have faith; that is the method of utilizing Me."

Indeed that is exactly what I did, in every step I took towards Swami. I was skeptical and wanted convincing evidence and reassurance to go forward in my belief. These inquiries convinced me in the divinity of our Lord. Although non-believers in the family and among friends ridicule me, I don’t heed to their criticisms and avoid arguments. Coming to Swami made me a better human being. Now I neither get elated at good fortune nor become miserable when things go bad. I am fully convinced that my Swami is my pillar of strength in all times, good or bad. Although I teach neuroscience, I make it a point to bring human values in some context, and make students understand the importance of following these values. I pray to Swami to give me the guidance and blessings to work for the service of mankind.

Jai Sai Ram!

 


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Vol 6 Issue 07 - JULY 2008
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