THE RAMALA CENTRE
The following talk was given by David Jevons to an audience of Sai Baba devotees who had gathered together to celebrate Sai Baba's birthday on November 23rd 2001 at a public hall in Abbotsford, British Columbia, in Canada. It has been edited, but only for the purpose of reproducing it in this Newsletter.
I will begin by saying "Happy Birthday, Swami." However, Ann and I
have been in Sai Baba's ashram in Puttaparthi to witness the celebration of his
birthday on several occasions and Swami has always presented us with the same
message, namely, "Don't waste your time saying Happy Birthday to me,
because I am always happy. You shouldn't concern yourselves with your birthdays
either. The important birthday on which you all have to concentrate is the day
when divine consciousness arises within you, the day when you become one with
the Source of All Knowledge and All Wisdom, and on that day I will celebrate
with you." So birthdays come and birthdays go, they are really not
important, for they are only body birthdays and, as such, are impermanent. They
simply mark the passage of time, and time, after all, is an illusion. Always
remember that we are limited neither by time nor by matter, for we are eternal,
infinite beings of spirit.
Now I think that we all recognise that the events of September 11th 2001, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, have changed many people's perception of the world in which they live. The reality is, though, that the world hasn't changed at all; it is only our perception of it that has changed. So we must place these events in a proper perspective. The effect of the terrorist attack of September 11th on our Western lifestyles is self-evident, but far more significant events, with a far greater loss of human life, have taken place, even in our lifetime. Many of us can recall the Second World War, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan and, more recently, the massacres in Rwanda, when many more people died than did so in the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. So why is it that this particular event has touched so many of us? Firstly, I think it is because these events took place much closer to home, in a country right next door to us, in a culture that shares our own human values and ideals. Secondly, here in the West, we have developed a false sense of invulnerability, of being protected from massacre and mayhem, and from a surprise attack, because of the perceived superiority of our armed forces and military technology. Nevertheless, whilst we have been glibly debating the pros and cons of a ballistic missile shield, a Third World terrorist group has quietly infiltrated several so-called secure Western countries and has successfully carried out a complex attack. If it could happen in the USA, then, it could happen anywhere. Many people have become fearful, fearful that they might die in a similar attack, fearful that their lifestyle could be dramatically changed but, above all, fearful that they are not in control of their lives. The loss of the World Trade Center has become the personal loss of everyone who identifies with what the World Trade Center stood for.
It is at such a time that we have to remember that nothing takes place on the surface of this Earth but that God wills it. Every war, every disaster, every massacre, every tragedy, is all a necessary part of the great drama of life of which God is the author. Sai Baba is always saying that life is a drama and that we should be the observers of the drama. We should be in the world but not of the world. When we go to the theatre and see a drama on the stage, we know that it is not real, that no one is really suffering, that an actor killed on the stage will be back to play the same role at the next performance. So it is a wise soul that looks at the drama now manifesting on the Earth and knows that that too is not real. What we are seeing now, in this particular drama, is simply the playing out of human karma. Races, nations, individuals, all attract unto themselves according to the seeds that they have sown and what takes place in any disaster, in any war, in any massacre, is simply the balancing out of human karma.
Why is it necessary to have such tragedies? What good comes from them? Sai Baba says that, unfortunately, Humanity only turns to God when it is suffering. Suffering is designed to turn Humanity's vision back towards God, towards the inner God, and away from the outer world. It is an amazing fact that, after this tragedy, church attendances in the United States went up by forty per cent over night! Moreover, because of this one act, many people, not just Americans, have begun to re-examine their own human values, to question the nature of their relationship with other cultures, with other religions, and to ask why people would be led to commit such an act. Above all, though, the events of September 11th have made many people aware of their own mortality, of just how fragile human life really is, of the fact that we never know when we are going to die. Many people have been forced to re-examine their relationship with whatever God they believe in. The impartial observer, who looks on the events of September 11th with an aware eye, can see both meaning and purpose in it. Many lessons can be learned from this tragedy.
Now why do many people here in Canada, including Sai devotees, feel fearful? Here in British Columbia we are far removed from the death and destruction of September 11th, so why should we be fearful? Do we really feel that similar forms of terrorism are threatening us? I don't think so. I believe that it is because we feel that our way of life, the values on which we base our lives, which are very similar to that of the Americans, is being challenged. Here in the technologically advanced countries of the Western World we believe that a high standard of living is our divine right, that we are fully entitled to the abundance of our material possessions, no matter what the cost to the planet or to other countries. We have become insular in our thinking and have forgotten the principle of Advaita or Non-Dualism, that all is one and that all races and all creeds belong to one race, the Human Race. We have forgotten that the resources of this planet, which are given to us by God, belong to the whole planet, not just to one country or to the technologically advanced nations who can afford to buy them. The destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, which were the ultimate symbols of trade and commerce, of power and influence, in a subtle way reflects the destruction of our own materialism on which we have grown to rely. Our possessions have begun to possess us but, as Sai Baba says, in reality we own nothing. Everything belongs to God and is loaned to us in a sacred trust.
So why do we have all these fears? What are the fears that challenge us the most? Perhaps the fear of our own death is at the top of the list and close to that comes the loss of our spouse, our children and those dear to us, but we also fear losing our wealth, our jobs, our social standing, our reputation and, of course, becoming seriously ill or disabled. There are many things that we can choose to fear, to the extent that fear can literally control our lives, if we do not know the one great truth, namely, that we are not our physical bodies. Both fear and the absence of fear are associated with our physical bodies. The absence of fear is no better than fear. A soldier in battle will suppress his feelings of fear but the fear is still there within his being. The only way that he can function in battle is to deny his feelings. So fear and the absence of fear are one and the same emotion. What we are looking for is the divine quality that rises above the physical, which is fearlessness. Once you have released body consciousness you become fearless and, as the Bible says, you can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil.
I always remember the wonderful story, which is probably apocryphal, of the time when Alexander the Great invaded India. His invincible army had just subdued the whole of Asia Minor and it was marching to conquer India. As it crossed the border it encountered a sadhu sitting on the road. It must have taken some guts for this sadhu to just sit there with all the cavalry and the armed soldiers bearing down on him! He was told to move, but he refused. So eventually the advanced guard said, "If you don't move, we are going to kill you", to which the sadhu just laughed and he remained seated on the road. His actions so amazed the soldiers that they began talking amongst themselves and the news eventually reached Alexander. Alexander came and stood in front of the sadhu and asked him why he did not fear death. The sadhu replied, "It is true that you can kill my body, but you cannot kill me. I am an eternal being." Alexander was so impressed by this understanding that he decided that it wasn't worthwhile fighting a war against a race that held such a belief, and so he turned his army around and went back to Asia Minor. So India was saved by the actions of one man. Now that sadhu was exhibiting the quality of fearlessness, which comes from being one with your divine spirit. With a true knowledge of the absolute, of the infinite, there is no place for fear.
Fear is caused solely by attachment to the physical body, to the physical
world and to the material possessions with which this world seduces us. The
fear of death is probably the biggest challenge that faces us all and so I
would like to read to you something that Sai Baba has said.
"If we recognise that birth is the reason for death, we will not feel sorry for death. Of all the fears of Man, the fear of death is the fiercest, as well as the most foolish. For none can escape death, having first committed the error of birth. To get rid of the wheel of birth and death, an awareness of the undying, unborn self, which is one's reality, is the only method available to Man. Why is Man today afflicted with fear and anxiety? Are we to search for the reasons outside of us, or do they lie within us? The reason lies in the false emphasis that we have laid on things of the material world, ignoring things of the spirit."
This surely is one of the great accusations that can be made against us here in the West. We have become attached to material things. A well-known Indian guru was once invited to visit America, but he politely declined, making the observation that America is a religious, but not a spiritual country. I think that this observation applies to many other countries as well. There is a big difference between people going to church and proclaiming themselves to be Christians, and people actually practising what Jesus taught and leading spiritual lives. I always remember reading the story of the prison guards down in Chile, who went to Mass on their way to work and yet still carried out the most appalling tortures and mutilations on the political prisoners in their charge. They would probably call themselves good Christians, but are they spiritual beings? More close to home are the Taliban in Afghanistan, who would profess to be devout Muslims, who would die for their faith, but are their actions the actions of truly spiritual beings? Religion deals with the particular, whereas spirituality embraces the whole. There is only One God of Whom we are all minute parts.
Fear is an inner thing. Fear does not exist outside of us. It is we who are responsible for creating either fear or the absence of fear. Now why does Sai Baba say that we should avoid either of these two aspects of body consciousness? It is because they take up so much of our valuable time and sap our energy. They distract us from our primary purpose in life, which is the pursuit of knowledge of the Divine. Moreover fear is like a contagious disease. If we allow it to manifest and to grow within us, then, we become carriers and we spread it wherever we go. A wise man once said that the fear of disease could be just as deadly as the disease itself. However the divine quality of fearlessness is beyond body consciousness. It can be experienced only when one recognises the truth of Advaita or Non-Dualism, 'the one divinity without a second resident in full measure in the heart', as Sai Baba says. On several occasions I have been privileged to hear Swami say to someone in his soft, melodious voice, "Why fear when I am here?" Now Sai Baba always chooses his words very carefully and there is nearly always more than one meaning or interpretation to what he says. On one level he is simply saying that there is no need for us to fear anything, for he, the avatar of the Age, is here in physical incarnation and he will protect us. But let us consider another meaning. The 'I am' is simply another name for our divine spirit or atma. So whenever the 'I am' is here, whenever our divine spirit is in the forefront of our lives and is controlling our beings, as opposed to our egos, we are beyond fear, we cannot be touched by fear, because we are one with the Divine. Remember the story of the sadhu in the path of Alexander the Great.
I would now like to share with you some of the ways in which Sai Baba protects his devotees. Firstly, if you are a close devotee, then you get the highest protection and I will tell you now the story of Dr. Michael Goldstein, who is the President of the Sathya Sai Organisation of North America. On the day before Goldstein was due to leave Sai Baba's ashram to return home to the USA, some years ago, Swami told Goldstein that this was the last time that he would be seeing him. Goldstein was very upset by this remark and reminded Swami that he had told him that he could return for the celebrations of his birthday in November. Swami smiled enigmatically and just told him to catch a later plane home. So Goldstein caught a later plane from Bangalore to Bombay, but he still arrived in time to catch his original Pan Am flight out of Bombay. When the flight landed in Karachi armed highjackers seized it. Goldstein was asleep and he awoke to see one of the highjackers holding a gun to his wife's forehead. A second highjacker held a gun on Goldstein and a third, armed with explosives, was holding an airhostess hostage. The Goldsteins silently chanted "Sai Ram" and took some of Swami's vibhuthi. They now realised why Swami had asked them to catch a later flight!
The highjackers collected all the passengers that were in the front and began to move them back to the middle of the plane, where they could control them. In the confusion one of the passengers was able to open an aircraft door and activate the emergency escape slide and passengers crowded around the door trying to escape. The highjackers began firing their guns and Goldstein bid goodbye to his wife. They ran to the slide and Goldstein was able to throw his wife out down the slide. Then, helping a wounded female passenger, he too was able to escape. When the Golsteins returned to Swami the following November Swami told them how he had changed the whole drama, as Goldstein was destined to be killed by the highjackers and that was why he had asked him to catch a later plane. Then Swami said something in Telegu to the students who were present. Goldstein was curious about this and later asked the students what Swami had said. A student replied that Swami had said that whilst you were sliding down the chute a highjacker by the door was about to kill you, but that Swami manifested on the scene behind the highjacker, raised his hand in a blessing gesture, and the highjacker took his finger off the trigger of the gun, thus saving Goldstein's life. Now Swami could have been straightforward and warned the Goldsteins about the highjacking. Instead he let the drama unfold, as it had been written. Why? Because in doing so he let Dr. Goldstein save another life and enhance both his own faith and the faith of others who hear and believe this story. Truly God acts in mysterious ways unknown and misunderstood by us. Nevertheless the story shows how Swami personally intervenes to help his devotees.
I am sure that some of you have heard of Robert and Rita Bruce, long-time devotees of Sai Baba. They give talks about Swami all over the world. Late one night they arrived by plane with Sai Baba at Hyderabad Airport, where he was due to attend some functions. Vast crowds were there to greet him, but after he had left the crowds quickly dispersed and the Bruces were left standing outside the airport with no taxis available to take them to their hotel. It was late at night, there was little street lighting and no one was around. They began to get worried and then fearful. Half an hour went by and they were entirely alone in a strange place, in a strange country, not knowing where their hotel was, let alone how to reach it. Robert then shouted in a loud voice, " Swami, please help us, we need transport to our hotel." Within a few minutes a taxi appeared and they thankfully climbed into it, saying the name of their hotel. As they drove there they observed that the taxi driver was as if in a trance. He didn't speak a word, he just drove the car like he was on autopilot and when they got to the hotel, he unloaded their baggage and would accept no money for the journey, very strange for an Indian taxi driver! They are sure that the driver was either Swami or an instrument of Swami. So even on that level Sai Baba personally intervenes to help his devotees when they are in difficulties.
Sai Baba is renowned for the rings that he manifests and gives to his devotees. Although Sai Baba says that the rings are simply tokens of his affection for the devotee, he has also said that they provide protection as well. He says that the ring is rather like a little video camera, which constantly shows him what is happening to the devotee. One day he suddenly announced to those around him on the veranda of the Mandir that there had been a serious accident on the road from the airport involving the air traffic controller there, who is a Sai devotee. Later we heard that the air traffic controller had swerved to avoid another car and had rolled and crashed onto the other side of the road. Amazingly, he was not hurt but, sensing Swami's involvement, the very next day the air traffic controller came to darshan to see Swami and to thank him for saving his life. Sai Baba said to him, " I didn't save your life; it was your good deeds that saved your life. All I did was to protect you by stopping the traffic coming from the other direction." I feel that this is a very important point to remember. Our good deeds are our protection in life. If we follow a spiritual life and follow the five basic human principles of Love, Truth, Peace, Non-violence and Right Action, that is our protection in this turbulent world in which we live.
So how do we get rid of these feelings of fear when they do arise? Firstly,
as we begin to sense the fear arising, we must recognise that it as an emotion
that is associated with our physical bodies. It is a body fear not a soul fear.
It is because something to which we have become attached in this life is being
threatened. It could be the loss of our own body or a family member, or it
could be the loss of a job, a possession, our personal wealth or security. To
this end, I would like to read you a couple of verses from the Bhagavad Gita. Sai Baba talked
about this two years ago and it quite took my breath
away. This is Lord Krishna, who is Swami in another incarnation, talking to Arjuna.
"Now listen carefully, Arjuna, this is the king of all secrets, the crown jewel, the law of life at the spiritual level. If you think of Me only and constantly revere and worship Me with your mind and heart undistracted, I will personally carry the burden of your welfare; I will provide for your needs and will safeguard what has already been provided. Just as the baby in the womb gets protection and nourishment due to its connection with the mother, so humans also get refuge when connected with Me. But this is even greater than the baby-mother relationship because this shelter is for eternity."
Aren't those wonderful words? That is the promise of our Creator. When we become devotees of God, we are under His protection and, in similar fashion, when we become devotees of Sai Baba, we fall under his protection. Perhaps we can now understand why Sai Baba says, "Why fear, when I am here." We truly have nothing to fear but the fear that we have created. If you attune to your 'I Am' self, to your divine atma, and become one with that divine spirit, whenever you are faced with an apparent threat, then, you will operate from that centre of fearlessness and will handle the situation appropriately.
Sai Baba is constantly declaring that we should bring all our problems to
him and allow him to handle them for us. I always think that that is a very
easy way out for us, but he keeps on saying it, so he must mean it! Sai Baba
"Bring me your fear, your craving, your anxiety, your inability to love the world as it is, your hesitation to serve, your jealousy, all the many deficiencies that defy your sadhana (spiritual practices). Bring them to me, give everything to me."
So the first thing we must do when we become fearful, as the world around us challenges us, since none of us are realised beings, is to hand our fears over to Sai Baba. And once we have handed them over, don't try to take them back again, if matters are not working out as we would wish. By focussing on his divinity we will inevitably focus on our own divinity, on our own atma, and as we become one with that divine force so we will become fearless. Always remember that fearlessness is the very nature of our beings, for we are eternal, infinite beings, all part of the One God. Fear is born out of living in duality, out of being separate from the Godhead. Fear is born out of human attachment and desire.
Perhaps the greatest fear that we all have, apart from loosing our own life, is that of losing our husband or wife, our parents or children. But is it not foolish to fear the inevitable, the inescapable? Sai Baba once said to us "The day you are born, the day of your departure is fixed." So all of us have an expiry date, a day when we are due to die, the only question is when! Michael Goldstein, with Swami's grace, was given an extension, but most of us cannot avoid our destiny, and if our destiny is to die at a young age, then so be it. What is so fearful about death, because the reality is that we are returning home. We are going to a place of spirit, a place of bliss and tranquillity. All the people who have had near-death experiences talk of the feelings of light and love that enfold them as they walk down that tunnel of light in their astral body. Sai Baba says life is like the blink of an eye and as you have blinked so many times in this life, so you have had that many lives in the eternal journey of your soul. What you are being asked to do now, with the incarnation of this avatar, is to make this life your last life, is to end the cycle of birth and death, because if you take physical birth you have to die. Avoid rebirth and you avoid death.
If you are body conscious, if you are attached to the material things of this world, if you are full of physical desires, then you are condemned to face their loss every day of your life. Death is your constant companion. But those who walk with God, who are fearless, only have to face one death, the death that they chose before they came down into physical incarnation. Death is not to be feared. Losing your physical possessions is not to be feared. Losing your good name and reputation is not to be feared. I know that it always used to fill me with dread when Swami said that before we get liberation we have to lose our reputation, our health and our wealth, to be reduced to nothing, before we merge with the Oneness of Life and obtain liberation. But then I reflected on the fact that I will lose these anyway at death, so why not a little earlier! What does it matter if we lose all these earthly attachments, because God has declared that He will take care of us as a mother takes care of her baby. I love my wife dearly, but if she was to die tomorrow, I would rejoice in her release from prison, in the fact that she had been called, in the fact that she would be with Swami. Many dying devotees have a vision of Sai Baba there waiting for them. We may protest that it is so difficult to release all of our earthly attachments but Sai Baba picks up a handkerchief and then drops it, saying, " To let go is as easy as that. It takes far more energy to hold on."
Now I am not saying that to let go is to release all your physical duties and responsibilities, what in Sanskrit is called your dharma. Sai Baba always emphasises that we must fulfil our dharmic duties; we must play the role in the great drama of life that we have chosen. We must all play our roles accurately, but without getting attached to them. We are actors on the great stage of Life and around us are many more actors. We must always remember that the actor is separate from the role. You know that the role that they are playing does not reflect the true nature of the actor within. If an actor on the stage of a theatre commits a murder, we do not blame him or feel the need to take his life. We know that all the actors will return to play many other roles in many other performances. A wise soul knows that violence and revenge does nothing but sow the seeds of further violence and revenge. How many armed conflicts could have been avoided if instead of sowing the seeds of death and destruction the people concerned had sent development aid and food and the gift of unconditional love. But how many people in this world are prepared to give genuine unconditional love as Sai Baba does? The one thing that endears me to Sai Baba is the power of his unconditional love. No matter who you are, no matter what your religion, no matter what your country, no matter what you have done, that unconditional love envelops you like a warm blanket, the love that passes all understanding.
So what can we really lose? The answer is nothing, because, in reality, nothing belongs to us. All of the material possessions that we call 'ours' are only loaned to us in a sacred trust. Everything belongs to the Godhead. Remember that our children are not of us, they only come through us. We were not in the least concerned about our husbands or wives before we met them and married them, and that concern will disappear when they die. Does it matter what others think of us? No, it is far more important what God thinks of us. Nothing in physical life is permanent and to get attached to the impermanent is simply inviting pain and suffering. So I invite you, the next time that you are fearful, to say, " I am not this fear, I reject it. I am not my body and it is the body that is fearful." Sit quietly, divest yourself of body-consciousness and attune to the divine spirit within you. If fear does grip you, then, chant the name of the Lord, say the Gayatri mantra, and restore your focus on the Divine. Finally, if you are unable to handle fear, then consciously offer it to Swami and gracefully accept his answer to your prayers. As always, all of these solutions lie in your hands.
I want to finish my talk by reading two quotations, one from the Bhagavad Gita and one from the teachings of Sai Baba.
"I love the peaceful devotee who is neither a source of agitation in the world nor is agitated by the world. I love those who are free of fear, envy and other annoyances that the world brings, who accept the knocks that come their way as blessings in disguise." Lord Krishna
"The Lord is the unseen foundation on which your life is built. He is the source, the sustenance and the strength. Without His will no leaf can turn, not even a blade of grass can quiver. What firmer foundation can you desire than this? Once you know that the Lord, the Omnipotent Power, is the mainpring of your life, there will be no fear any more." Sri Sathya Sai Baba