OUR VISIT TO SRI SATHYA SAI BABA
David and I had decided at the end of our last trip to see Sai Baba that we would not be taking a group to Prashanti Nilayam on our next trip, as there were always so many problems associated with people in the group, which we had to sort out. They say that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans! Well He must have had a good laugh at our expense as throughout the year various friends and strangers phoned and called, all asking to be a part of our group when we next went to see Sai Baba. At first I kept on saying that we were not taking a group, but then I slowly began to get the message inside of me that that we should take a group and far from being the six that I anticipated it would end up by consisting of fifteen people.
Our trip started officially from London's Heathrow Airport on January 25th. We had flown over from Canada a week earlier to celebrate my daughter's l8th birthday in Glastonbury and so we arranged to meet everyone at the airport. The night before our flight we stayed at my sister's house in Kingston on Thames, where my son, David Elliot, who was coming with us on the trip, joined us. He is now a policeman in London. We had to repack our bags as they were far too heavy and I kept on putting extra items in my son's bags as he had wisely taken much less than us. He was keeping a good eye on me as he said that he did not want to get to the airport and have someone ask him if he knew what was in his bags and then have to say "I don't know, my mummy packed them for me!" Didi, as I shall refer to him from now on, to differentiate him from his father, David, told me of a dream that he had recently had. In his dream he had come across some elephants, which were dying from a lack of water and there were some people trying to save them. He immediately joined in giving them water and all was going well until some music suddenly started up and everyone walked off towards the music. He asked them where they were going and they replied that it was time for Sai Baba's darshan. Didi said "But what about the elephants?" but it did not make any difference. They all went off and left him alone and so he had to work twice as hard to save the elephants by himself. Suddenly he looked up and noticed that someone else was helping him. He looked around to see who it was. It was Sai Baba, of course! Now I thought that that was a very meaningful dream and I stored it away in my memory.
Our group was an international group with people coming from Canada, America, England, France and Australia. We experienced several dramas on the journey out. For example, our plane was late into Frankfurt, where we were due to change planes for the flight to Bombay, leaving us only thirty minutes for the transfer. A couple of people in our group did not realise that there was a one hour time change between London and Frankfurt and thought that they had ninety minutes to spare instead of thirty. So instead of rushing to the gate for the next flight they went duty free shopping instead! Search parties were desperately sent out with only minutes to spare and the stragglers were rounded up just in time. On our arrival at Bombay the airport hotel service desk phoned our hotel to come and collect us and to confirm our reservation only to be told that the hotel had never heard of either our booking or us for ten people and that the hotel was full. Panic set in until we discovered that the desk clerk at the airport had phoned the wrong hotel! These were just the first of many lessons in patience, trust and equanimity. Our spiritual journey to India had begun.
On reaching Puttaparthi everyone soon settled down into the familiar ashram routine. I turned to David on the first morning that we were there and told him that I had woken up with my little inside voice, Atma Annie, as I call it, telling me that this was going to be the best trip that we had ever had. The group soon sorted out who was sharing rooms with who, according to who liked to sleep with the fan on or who with the fan off, and moving accordingly. In darshan on the very first day Sai Baba walked up to David and asked him how many were in his group and where did the group come from. David told him that it was an international group and Sai Baba said in a very impressed voice "Oh, international!" In the meantime I had been talking to Gillian Wood, an old friend of ours who lives in the ashram full-time, and she had been warning me about the effects of Shivaratri, the festival that was due to be celebrated on the night of February 14/15th. Now Shivaratri, which is the time when the moon is not visible at all, when all sixteen phases merge with God, is the time when the mind can be brought fully under control. However the days that lead up to it is a time when all the emotional and unresolved parts of our consciousness are stirred up and brought to the surface to be dealt with positively. I was sitting in darshan one morning, waiting for Sai Baba to come, and was reading Sanathana Sarathi, the official ashram magazine. I came across the following statement, which spoke volumes to me. "Give the guru your mind as you would entrust gold to the goldsmith. The guru may need to melt, mould or beat your mind, but do not worry, as he will return to you a precious jewel. Do not say, Swami, give me peace but don't give me pain, as Swami may need to inflict pain before the process of purification is completed." I wondered what kind of a trip this, my thirteenth trip to visit Sai Baba, was going to be, since in my last two trips he had definitely been weaning me off his form. Then I read in the same magazine "God will never impose on you the ordeals which you cannot bear. He tests his devotees in various ways. Test is the taste of God. Never fear any test." So I decided to relax, to try to live in the moment and just accept whatever happened to me, after all, what else could I do?
I had some extra group scarves made in the purple and gold Ramala colours and distributed them at our first group meeting on the evening of the second day. It was a good thing that I did as the very next morning Sai Baba spoke to David and called the group in for an interview. There were twelve of us in the group at that time and we were the only people that he called that morning. Our interview lasted for over an hour. We felt very blessed, especially when the King of Nepal, his wife and entourage were called in for an interview that afternoon and they only had half an hour! Now half of our group were newcomers to Sai Baba and so it was quite an experience for them to be sitting at Swami's feet so soon after arriving. Some of us had had to wait many years for such a privilege. Sai Baba was in great form, speaking very softly and sweetly to everyone. As he walked in to the interview room he said to me "Your husband is very happy about this." Then turning to David he said "Fast", meaning fast to have an interview so soon and David "Yes, it was quick Swami" to which Sai Baba responded "No, very quick!"
He began by looking at the little rose brooch that I wear on my sari and then he moved his hand in the familiar gesture and manifested for me a beautiful peacock brooch made of gold with hundreds of tiny diamonds and jewels. It was quite exquisite and I was thrilled. I wore it proudly on my saris every day for the rest of the trip. I was later told that not only is the peacock the national bird of India but that it is the symbol of Subrahmanyam, who is the younger brother of Lord Ganesh and the second son of Lord Shiva and Parvathi. The peacock is a symbol of vanity but Subrahmanyam helps you to overcome it and to rise to the highest. He then turned to my son Didi and asked him how old he was. He seemed interested that he had completed his 26th year and then he manifested a ring with three large diamonds on it and gave it to him. He then began making various comments on the state of the world, which were very interesting. He was not very happy with America at the moment and said that she was a dictator, imposing her will on the world, and that she did not practise what she preached. He was concerned with the hole in the ozone layer, which was getting larger and causing a temperature rise on Mother Earth. He equated it to the human body, where even a small temperature rise leads to a fever and he told us that Mother earth is getting a fever which will have serious consequences for us in terms of the weather and earth events. He went on to say that the Earth is hollow, like a ball, and that Man is taking so many minerals etc. out of the earth that it is losing its balance and will topple and this too will have severe effects. He said that Man was too busy working on worldly things and was not spending enough time working on his divinity.
Sai Baba then told us first hand about the accident that happened to him on his school's sports day on January 11th, when he had taken on a serious accident in order to save a student taking part in a dangerous demonstration on that day from a broken spine. He described how he had had to sit on his dais both watching and participating in the sports day programme for five hours in intense pain with blood pouring down his back. He told us how he had to take his consciousness to a very high level so as to be able to not feel the pain. He also said that when he had had to walk up some steps and turn his back to the crowd he had willed that all the forty thousand people present did not notice the blood on his gown. A full report of this incident was eventually published in the February edition of Sanathana Sarathi, but it was fascinating to hear the whole story directly from Swami's own lips, giving his divine perspective on the event. The root cause of the whole incident was that neither the staff nor the boys at his school listened to Swami's warnings on the days leading up to the event. So let this be a lesson for us too. You don't ignore the warnings of the Avatar of the Age. Sai Baba then went on to talk about the year 2000 and the Y2K computer problem and said that there was going to be one. How bad it was going to be he did not say, but he did say that after the year 2000 people would begin to rely more on consciousness and less on computers. The nature of human life is going to change. He said that this year, 1999, is a dangerous year and is not auspicious, but that from next year things will start to get better. We tried to ask him about the men devotees being allowed back to work in the western canteen from which they were banned several months ago, if only because the women devotees were finding it difficult to handle the big pots of food, but he quickly said that that part of running the ashram was outside his jurisdiction.
He then went on to speak to most of the group individually and he told my son many personal things. One that I can share with you was that Sai Baba said that he had recently saved him from a very nasty car crash whilst on patrol in London and then he added that that was not the first time. I had some family photographs with me and he quickly looked through them and when he came to the one of David on his new tractor mowing our fields in Canada he referred to him as "motorcycle man" much to David's amusement. I guess boys will be boys! David asked Swami who cut his hair because it was looking so much better than last year and he said that no one cuts his hair, it just grows naturally by itself. Someone in our group then asked Sai Baba for a ring and Swami rounded on them saying "Selfish man." He was not pleased and then went on to say that it was better to be a fish than be selfish. He said a fish swims through water and cleans the water, but a selfish man lives in society and pollutes society. I guess the moral of this story is always to wait until he offers a ring, don't ask for one. Swami also commented on the fact that Man's primary duty or service is not to harm others. He then ushered us out of the interview room with the promise of more interviews to come. We could not believe our ears.
In the darshans that followed the men in our group basked in the glow of Swami's attention, since almost every day he would walk up to them and smile, take a letter or say something to them. On one occasion he said to David, whilst looking at Didi, "Who is this boy?" and David, as quick as a flash, had replied, "He is your son Swami." At another time he came by with both his hands full of letters that he had taken and he turned to them, made a gesture of helplessness and said "My hands are full, what can I do?" David said afterwards that he should have offered to carry the letters for him, but he did not think of it at the time. On another occasion he looked very deeply at Andrew, a dear friend of ours from Australia, who had flown from Sydney especially to be with our group even though it meant leaving his pregnant wife at home. They had both decided that it was better not to expose the unborn baby to the rigours of airline travel. It was the day of their first wedding anniversary and Andrew was sitting in darshan thinking of his wife. As Swami entered to give his darshan they began playing the usual background darshan music, only this time they started by playing the song that had been sung at their wedding. Andrew could not believe his ears. He was really impressed that the omnipresent Sai could arrange something like this and he was even more impressed when Sai Baba walked up to him and looked deeply into his eyes. We had to spend the rest of the day pulling him down to Earth again by his ankles. On Sunday mornings we used to go to the EHV Building to listen to a talk by Anil Kumar, who is Sai Baba's interpreter. He is a charismatic speaker who, being so close to Swami, is party to many extraordinary experiences and has some wonderful stories to tell. He has put some of them down in a small book, which has just been published by the ashram press. One of my favourite stories is when Anil goes to Swami and tells him that the school boys are upset that Swami is not giving them enough attention and that they are all going to go on a hunger strike unless he comes and talks to them. Apparently Swami said "Good. Then they will all die and I will be able to give them new bodies, only this time I will make them more handsome!" One day Swami manifested a dozen watches at the same time for some doctors. Anil said to Swami "How can you hold them all in your hand Swami?" to which Swami replied "If I can materialise them, I can hold them!" I recommend his book to you.
In the March 1998 Newsletter David talked about his visit to the seer who gave readings from The Book of Brighu. It was therefore more than a coincidence when, in darshan one day, the lady sitting next to me told me the story of the origins of this book which is written on palm leaves. Apparently there was a sage called Brighu Samhita who around about five thousand years ago decided to find out who was the greatest of the Gods. So he went to visit Lord Brahma, who ignored him. He then went to see Lord Shiva, who had no time for him at all. So he finally went to see Lord Vishnu, who was relaxing with his consort Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. The sage went up to Lord Vishnu and kicked him hard on the chest. Lord Vishnu, surprised by his action, turned to the sage and said "Dear sage, I hope that did not hurt your foot as much as it hurt me. My chest feels like it has been crushed by a stone." From this the sage surmised that Lord Vishnu was the greatest of the Gods. However Lakshmi was cross that the sage had hurt her husband and cursed him, saying that she would never incarnate in his lineage. The sage said that she could do what she wished but that he, as a great sage, would write a book with the story of all the lives of all of his descendants far into the future, so that they could earn a living by giving readings from the book and that is how The Book of Brighu came into being. What made me believe that The Book could be authentic was that a friend of mine in the ashram said that she and her husband went to have their reading but the present 'sage' told them that they were not in the book and sent them away, thereby losing any chance of earning the fee that he would have charged them for a reading. So maybe there is something in it after all. Who knows? I remain open minded but David, who had a reading, is quite convinced that The Book is accurate.
I tried to go to morning and afternoon bhajans in the temple as often as possible because Sai Baba would come and sit on his golden throne there and would either conduct or just listen to the bhajans. He would often give his wonderful two-handed blessings and at times he seemed to drift off into another world where he was aware of everyone and everything on every level of existence. I used to sit with my eyes glued to him, just drinking in that divine nectar and feeling waves of energy flowing over me, transforming me on a deeper level. I have felt these waves of energy transforming my body in the past, but this time I could also feel them going through my head. I hope that means progress! One day Sai Baba walked into the temple before the bhajans had started. As was the custom all the male students were on one side and the ladies were on the other. As he walked down the aisle the students were all over him, touching his robe, clinging to him, holding his hand with such an exchange of love and devotion that it quite took my breath away. One young student handed Swami a letter, which he immediately opened. It contained two pieces of paper, one with writing on it and one blank. Swami read the letter, talked to the student about its contents and then handed him back the blank piece of paper telling him not to waster paper! As Swami walked back to his chair he suddenly stopped, standing right in front of me, and he smiled at me, looked at the brooch that he had only recently given me and then smiled again. I was over the moon with happiness. It was such an intimate moment between us, and a sharing far deeper than the outward experience. I felt mountains of karma shifting and my doubting monkey mind slowly grinding to a halt. What is it about Sai Baba that inspires such love and devotion? I think that one of the reasons is the fact that he has this ability to love everyone unconditionally.
Linda Bond was in the ashram with a group from Bath and she invited David and I to her room one morning to give a short talk to her group about our recent interview. They were such a nice group and they presented us with a box of my favourite chocolates as a thank you when we left. Now the one thing that I miss most in India is my chocolate and here was Sai Baba, through these lovely people, providing me with them. He thinks of everything. I kept them in our fridge and made them last the whole trip. We were also invited to attend a devotional singing session one evening in an American devotees room with Sam Podany, who produced the musical cassette 'Thank You Baba', and who sings and plays country and western bhajans, leading the singing. It was a wonderful evening, full of devotion, but there were complaints from the neighbours about the noise. We attended another session a few days later, singing very quietly, but again there were complaints. The next thing that we heard was that the American gentleman in whose room the singing had taken place was rebuked by Sai Baba in darshan and within half an hour was being escorted out of the ashram with all of his belongings. Now obviously there was a much deeper significance to this whole episode, because we were later told that the gentleman concerned had spent several years in the ashram and had always said that he would leave when Swami told him to. Well, Swami had told him now! Nevertheless it was a sharp lesson for me. Although Sai Baba is Shakti and can be sweetness itself, he is also Shiva and can be very firm at times and will always act in a way that is for our highest good, however unpleasant that might appear to be at the time.
A few days after our group interview Sai Baba called Didi in for an interview on his own saying to David "He is leaving before you." Now this was true, but the real reason for this, I think, was because Didi had mentioned to some friends of ours that he did not want an interview with his parents because he wanted to talk freely to Sai Baba about certain aspects of his life about which he didn't want us to hear! Whatever the reason, he went off on his own for an interview together with a bishop and his prelate from the South of France and a princess from Belgium. Most of the conversations were private but Didi did share a little of what went on. Swami manifested a beautiful Ganesh brooch with a watch hung underneath it for the princess, gave several people some of the orange robes that he wears and manifested another ring for Didi. This time it had a green stone, an emerald, which represents peace or peace of mind. Funnily enough that was the same ring that Daniel, my other son, wanted Sai Baba to give him to take home for Didi when we had an interview with him in Kodaikanal in 1993. So including the original Shirdi Baba ring that Swami gave him in his first interview in 1994 Didi now has had three rings given to him by Sai Baba. He must have done something good in a past life to deserve such treatment or else they are for protection in this life, since he is a policeman and is often exposed to danger. Only Swami knows the reason and he is not telling me! In the interview Swami also described life as a video game. If you do good you win and if you do bad you lose and to win is to get liberation at the end of the game and to lose is to have to play the game again. He also talked to some architects who were building a new school somewhere and then he gave Didi a personal interview for fifteen minutes. Some of what he said I will one day share with you, my readers, but not until some of the predictions unfold in the course of time.
One upset in our daily routine occurred when David fell sick. He had a repeat attack of the same problem as last year, because he does not drink enough water and this causes his kidneys to go into spasm. He had a warning pain one afternoon, took some electrolytes and drank a lot of water and thought that he was cured, but by the next afternoon he was rolling around in great deal of pain. I made him drink lots of water and then set off for afternoon darshan. I had a great seat in the darshan area and was sitting down to read and meditate when I suddenly remembered Didi's dream of the elephants. Now one of the nicknames for my husband is Jumbo Jevons because he flew Jumbos, Boeing 747 planes, as a pilot. It flashed upon me that my jumbo was sick from a lack of water and I had gone off to darshan! I tried to dismiss the thought as silly, if only because I had got a great seat and
! I talked to the lady sitting beside me and she suggested that I went up to the local hospital for advice. I followed her advice, walked to the hospital and met a charming young Indian doctor, who trained in Swami's college and was extremely efficient. He suggested that I bring David to him immediately as he could not prescribe any medicine without seeing him as the pain could be caused by the liver or by some other organ. So I went back to the ashram and asked if I could take a rickshaw inside the ashram with me to collect David and take him to the hospital. They said that that was not possible and that I should go and arrange for an ambulance to collect him. That being the case I thought that I would first go back to our apartment and tell David what was gong on. As I arrived outside our apartment block I saw a brand new rickshaw waiting there with a young man polishing it! I could not believe my eyes, especially since that was the first time in ten years that I had ever seen one there. I asked him if he was waiting for someone and he said that he was free. So I quickly engaged him and went to get David. He dressed and got ready to go to the hospital. As we went up the main street of Puttaparthi in the rickshaw I noticed that on all sides where photographs of Sai Baba, smiling and giving his blessings. Even when we got to the hospital, and sat down in the waiting room, there was a large photograph of Sai Baba looking down on us and so I did not feel that I had missed darshan at all. The Doctor quickly diagnosed David's problem as being renal colic, gave him a prescription of ayurvedic medicine and told him to drink twenty pints of liquid every day. Now for a man who normally has two cups of tea each day, this seemed an impossibility, but at least he got the message that when you are in the heat of India you have to drink plenty of water. After I had got David home I went and collected his medicine from a shop in the town. On the way back, walking past the temple, I heard them singing English devotional songs to Swami. I was just in time to see him leave the temple and walk slowly up the long path to his house, so I did not miss his physical darshan after all.
A few days later Sai Baba called David, Didi and myself for an interview without the group. "A family interview" he said. Sai Baba also called three Americans, a group of seven Germans and, once again, the two priests from the South of France. Now the bishop was an elderly man and as soon as we were all inside the interview room Sai Baba pointed at the curtain behind Didi and asked him to get a chair. Didi did not understand what Sai Baba wanted him to do, until Sai Baba walked past him and drew back the curtain to reveal the second interview room and pointed to a chair in it, which Didi then brought out for the old priest. Sai Baba turned to Didi and said "What's the matter with you. Don't you understand English?" He then manifested a two stone diamond ring for one of the Americans and a pearl bracelet for one of the German ladies and told her that she could use it as a japamala by just counting the pearls on it four times around. He looked at the peacock brooch that he had only recently given me and said, "Who gave you that?" as if he did not know. I said, "God did." Sai Baba responded by saying, "Where is God?" I replied, "God is everywhere." Sai Baba then said, "If God is everywhere, he is in London, isn't he?" to which I replied "Yes". Sai Baba then said "So what are you doing here?" and I replied, " Swami, I still love to be close to the form." He just shrugged his shoulders in a helpless gesture to everyone, as if to say, "What can I do?" He is a wonderful showman as well as being a teacher and many lessons are taught through little exchanges of conversation such as this.
Sai Baba then talked about there being three types of teachers. There is the teacher who inspires, there is the teacher who explains and then there is the teacher who complains. When I asked him how we could help him, as he seemed to work so hard all day, every day, Sai Baba said that he did not need any help and that what he did was Sai work. He is such an example to us all. We come and go to and from his ashram every year and find just three weeks an intense experience from which we need a rest and yet he is there every day of the year serving, inspiring, helping, working and sharing, with never a moments rest, with never a day off, with never any privacy. That is the real miracle of Sai Baba. He told an overweight German lady to control her tongue, as she was too fat, a comment that was a little too close for comfort. He also mentioned that David was a god, oops, sorry, that was a Freudian slip, a good speaker. He then turned to me and said that I was a good talker! I hope that that was a compliment. He then looked at David's manuscript for his book and told him that he would sign it when it was finished but that there was still a little more writing to do. Little did we understand why at that time. He liked the size of the book, though, not too short and not too long. He also signed three photographs for us, two for our children who weren't there and one for a devotee in Canada who comes to our devotional group meetings in Langley. I was massaging both his feet at this time and he looked down and asked me if I had finished polishing them yet. I replied that to be sitting at the feet of one's guru and to be holding those feet was bliss personified for a devotee.
He then took the family into the private interview room and talked to us for a long time about Daniel, my other son, and Diana, my daughter, as well as clarifying previous advice given to Didi. Diana is taking her A level exams this year and is having problems with chemistry. Sai Baba looked at me and said, "She doesn't understand chemistry." How true that is! He also said that it did not matter and that biology was more important to her. Actually she has decided to study philosophy and theology instead of the sciences at university, and when I told Swami this he was not too keen on philosophy. He said that the philosophy of the west was inaccurate. Diana has an offer to go to Oxford University as well as several offers from other good universities, but we will just have to wait and see what grades she gets for her A levels and what God has decided for her destiny. Basically, though, he seemed very pleased with the three children and the fact that David and I are supporting Sai Baba Centres in England and Canada, and are talking and writing about him. He seems to take a great interest in families and makes a special effort to encourage young people. To be with him as a family is such a sacred moment. You feel blessed beyond words and never want the experience to end, and yet end it must and soon he was ushering us out of the interview room, back into the world again.
One day I went to darshan after peeling potatoes in the Western Canteen. I found that by helping for half an hour in the early morning, from 4.30 is to 5.00am, my ashram seva was done and then I had the afternoon free for a short nap. The thirteen-hour time change between Langley and India really knocked me out for quite some time. On this particular day I was very aware of Lord Shiva and I wanted to ask Him for help in destroying my attachment or obsession with horses. Before I left for India this trip I had been contemplating building an indoor riding ring on our Canadian property. Much as I love the West Coast of Canada it is very wet in winter and you just cannot ride at all for weeks at a time unless you ride under cover. As I was trying to come to terms with my desire and justify such a large expense a little voice inside of me said "You had better take care not to die on this trip!" When I asked "Why?" the reply came back "Because if you did, you would almost certainly come back as an indoor riding ring!" I should perhaps explain here that there is this understanding that whatever you are attached to in life or are thinking of when you die is the focus for your next rebirth. Now although this might seem funny to you, my readers, there was a deadly ring of truth in it for me. So I went into the temple for bhajans and as Sai Baba passed by where I was sitting and looked at me, I fervently offered up to him, as the living incarnation of Shiva, all my negativity and addictions especially to horses and indoor riding rings. He looked straight at me and did his familiar hand movements in the air as if he was rewriting karma. I hope so. I really don't want to be attached to anyone, to any place or to anything. That is a big order, I know, but to identify it is at least a start. You can do anything that you set your mind to, but you cannot do it alone. You need God to help you achieve it.
Ashram life can be experienced on many levels. Whilst on one level you see kings, princes and very high powered people like the Home Minister of India coming to see Sai Baba very openly for his darshan, there is also a very private and intimate level going on which if you were not there to witness you would never hear about it. I was privileged to be there for one such occasion. The ladies had gone into the temple in preparation for morning bhajans. The students had not yet been admitted and so there were only women there. Sai Baba silently entered and walked down the aisle, very slowly and very relaxed. As he came to where I was sitting he asked me how I was. I replied "Very happy, Swami." He then said "Only very happy, not very, very happy?" So I responded "Yes, Swami, very, very happy." He then very playfully said "Not very, very, very, happy?" Everyone around me laughed and he then pointed to an old lady sitting behind us, in a corner of the temple. I was later told that she was ninety-eight years old and she looked just like a little crumpled dead leaf. Sai Baba told me that she was blind and deaf. He then asked us to move aside and he walked through the rows of women and went up to the old lady and tapped her firmly on her head and said in a very clear voice "Swami is here." He did this three times. On the third occasion she held up her little thin arm and Sai Baba took her hand, bent down and talked to her in her ear and stroked her face with his hand. Her wrinkled old face lit up like the sun and the woman next to me told me that she had been waiting for some time for Sai Baba to come to her and that now she would have moksha or liberation. He then went to the front of the temple and blessed the huge new gold statue of Krishna with a cow and a calf standing beside him and also the large Hanuman statue and the other statues on the altar.
Sai Baba then picked up a serpent or lingam flower from the altar and took it over to the Belgium princess and opened it, showing her how deep inside the flower were one hundred and nine anthers and a little lingam resting amongst them. He then quietly glided out and left us all contemplating the meaning of what we had just witnessed. It was obviously a rite of passage for this old woman with only women present as witnesses. My friend Gillian Wood who lives in the ashram on a permanent basis gave me her interpretation of the events on the very next day, which I thought was pretty accurate. First Sai Baba makes you happy, then he makes you deaf and blind to the things of the world and then he reveals the inner secrets of the universe. Another wonderful experience with women was when the girl students from his college in Anantapur came to visit one Thursday. There was a huge block of them in the Mandir all prettily dressed in the same coloured saris. They had brought their musical instruments with them and they sang to Swami. They sang several songs in English and one of them was the theme song from the film 'Titanic'. They sang it so beautifully with a few words changed to make it applicable to Swami, who just stood there, surrounded by all the girls, swaying gently in rhythm with the music. All of us who were watching had tears in our eyes and felt so blessed to be there for such a special moment. I might add that this little ceremony took place in the time between afternoon darshan and bhajans and illustrates why it always pays to stay in the Mandir when Swami is there and not go off for tea! On a lighter note, David had a book by John Hislop that he had been reading and making notes in stolen when he was in darshan. He placed it beside his seat when Swami came in and the person behind him must have taken it. He was annoyed at the time but soon forgot about it. Three days later Didi or P.C. Jevons walked into our apartment with the book. Being a policeman he had observed and remembered the face of the person who had done it and when he saw them walking around the ashram he had apprehended them and recovered the stolen book and returned it to its rightful owner. David was tickled pink by this, not only at getting his beloved book back but at Didi demonstrating his awareness of the situation and using his newly acquired skills!
I awoke one morning with the words of the bhajan 'It gets sweeter and sweeter, as the days go by, Oh what a love between my Sai and I' going round inside my head. This certainly proved to be true that day. I chose row one in the cosmic lottery to get into the temple for morning bhajans and for the first time that visit David, unbeknownst to me, did so as well. It is very difficult for the men to get into the temple because the students take up much of the space and so only a few devotees ever get in. Moreover they only allow six small lines for the cosmic lottery that decided who goes in and unless you are very quick and are sitting close to where the lines form you never get a chance to even get in the lines, let alone get in to the temple. That morning David had managed to get into an illegal seventh line that had somehow formed and amazingly the seva dals allowed it to stay. That seventh line became line one in the cosmic lottery and so David was amongst the first to get into the temple. I was sitting right up in the front of the temple and I suddenly looked across and right opposite me, on the other side of the aisle that separates the men and the women, was David. I was so thrilled that he had managed to get in, and then I looked up to see Sai Baba walking towards us. He talked to several people and on the way back, when he stopped near me, I pointed to David and said "Swami, my husband is here" to which Swami replied "Yes, I know" in a voice which said you don't have to tell me that! He then turned and spoke to David and asked him how Didi was. David replied that Didi was leaving for England that very day and that he was very happy. The whole incident was like a little private interview and left us both glowing. Situations like this can only be organised by the omnipresent aspect of God. With upwards of twenty thousand people there, what are the mathematical odds of us both winding up sitting beside each other, at the same time, in the same place, and with Swami coming in and talking to us? Astronomically high, I would say. It is incidents like this that help to deepen my faith in the omnipresent God.
Shivaratri was just a couple of days away now and the moon was getting smaller and smaller every night. I had given up reading for a few days and was trying to slow my mind down in preparation for the big night. Several of us had been helping with the drying up in the Western Canteen in the evenings. One night, it was around 8.30pm, as we walked along the path to the Canteen the biggest snake that I have ever seen slithered across right in front of us. I thought that it was a python. It must have been over eight feet long and could have eaten a skinny devotee for breakfast! I don't mind snakes at all and I felt that it was a very auspicious sign, especially when I was told the next day that it was a cobra. Apparently it lives in a hole close to the canteen and so I suggested that they gave it some milk on Shivaratri. That night I dreamed of Sai Baba for the first time in a year. He was walking to give darshan only he had a carpenter's saw and tools under his arm and he was obviously setting off to repair something - namely us. Later on in the dream we were sitting in a kind of amphitheatre and we were all singing bhajans, only we were all singing out of tune, clapping out of rhythm and generally making a terrible sound. Sai Baba had his hands over his head and was shaking his head and was saying "What a mess, what a mess." Then I woke up. Now Sai Baba has predicted that this year, 1999, will be dangerous and not very auspicious but that after his birthday next year things will begin to get much better. In fact the Golden Age is meant to begin after his 75th birthday on November 23rd 2000.
The day of Shivaratri dawned. It was February 14th. As usual it was warm and balmy. The ashram was full but not as crowded as on a birthday. Morning darshan was different. Sai Baba sat on a chair in front of the temple and the students chanted mantras and sang bhajans to him all about Lord Shiva. I had taken the lingam to darshan that Sai Baba had manifested and given to me several years earlier, just so that it could be there for the occasion. When the students sang the shiva lingam song, Lingashtakam, it fairly jumped up and down in the little box in which I keep it! The Italian devotees had made a huge decorated lingam which was full of sweets and which they wheeled onto the verandah. Sai Baba opened it and prasad was distributed to everyone. In the afternoon Sai Baba gave a long talk just before the twelve-hour bhajan session began and then he left. He alluded to the possibility of a lingam coming and so, whilst normally half the people would leave after a few hours, that night the place was packed. David stayed and sang the whole night. He told me afterwards that he sat on his poor behind for a total of nineteen hours! I came and went but after midnight I settled in for the duration. We were leaving the ashram the next morning and so I was concerned that I would never handle the long journey home without a little sleep. Little did I know that by staying awake all that night I was going to receive a great boon.
I was sitting with my back against the wall by the first arch with a great view of the verandah over the heads of everyone present. Sai Baba arrived at 6.00am and went and sat in his chair on the verandah in front of the temple. He signalled for the microphones on the table in front of him to be moved and immediately took a sip of water. A few seconds later he took another sip of water and wiped his face as if he was sweating. I immediately thought to myself that Sai Baba does not sweat or drink water at 6.00am in the morning. Something special was going on. I said to everyone around me "Watch carefully, I think Swami is going to produce a lingam." Someone said that they doubted that very much since he had not produced a lingam in public for over 20 years. Nevertheless they all sat up and took notice. Sure enough, after a few coughs and hunching forward and more face wiping with his handkerchief, Sai Baba suddenly produced this golden lingam. Even though it was about the size of a duck's egg it shot out of his mouth in a huge arc. It was so bright that it looked like the sun was shining on it. Sai Baba caught it and held it up. Everyone rose to their feet and a great roar went up from the crowd. A group of very tired and sleepy people suddenly came to life in an electrified way. I held up my lingam to let it see its new golden brother or sister. After showing the lingam to everyone Sai Baba commenced to give a talk and in the talk he mentioned the lingam and then he threw it on the ground where it bounced. He said that the lingam, like God, was indestructible. Anil Kumar, who was interpreting Sai Baba's talk, chased after it and picked it up. I will always remember the shocked look on his face as he watched the lingam bouncing off the stone floor of the verandah! He said afterwards that the lingam was very light in weight and so was apparently hollow like the Earth. Sai Baba called it the Hiranyagarbha (meaning the Principle of Divine Love) lingam and he said that everyone who was there and saw the lingam would have definite benefit from the experience, but that those people who had actually seen it emerge from his mouth would have liberation at the end of this life and would experience no rebirth. Interestingly enough David, who has been told that he is coming back for one more life, to be with Prema Sai Baba, was sitting behind a pillar and so missed the actual sight of it emerging. I, on the other hand, saw it emerge very clearly and I had been told several years ago by Sai Baba that this would be my last life. It was also interesting to hear who in our group was in the Mandir to witness this event, who saw it emerge, who only saw the lingam when Sai Baba held it up. Everyone was treated according to his or her individual karma. So although thousands of people were there that does not mean that they all automatically gained liberation. After Sai Baba's discourse was over he then fed breakfast to every one of the thousands of people who were there. It was just incredible. The students appeared with pot after pot of warm food, which was individually served on palm leaves. I'm ashamed to say that some of the Indian women rushed forward and chaos ensued and so many of them were sent outside the Mandir to be fed there. After the feeding of the twenty thousand Sai Baba slowly walked back to his apartment in the Poornachandra Hall. What a night it had been, truly, one that I will remember forever.
We returned to our apartment, packed our bags and a group of five of us set off for Puttaparthi Airport to catch our flight to Bombay and begin our long journey back home. David and I spent a week in England with Diana, as it was her half term. We gave a talk to the Sai group in Glastonbury about our visit and eventually returned home to Canada at the end of February, to find the horses and the cat all in fine shape. We discovered that we had missed nothing because it had rained almost every day that we had been away, thanks to some freak weather caused by La Nina, the sister of El Nino. Mount Baker had over twenty-two feet of snow, a world record, and Victoria had over two and a half times its normal rainfall in February. So I had plenty of opportunity to stay inside and type this report and wait for Spring to come and entice me back outdoors. I suddenly realised what Sai Baba could have meant when he said that he would walk on air. We had hardly got home when the story of Shivaratri and photographs of the manifestation of the lingam began to appear on the Internet for anyone to download. Sai Baba is walking the airways of the world every second of the day, every day of the year, through the Internet. He is truly going global now. Everyone is able to hear about him and to know what he is doing.
What else can I say? It was the best trip ever, but I always come back from seeing Sai Baba and say that. The experiences may be similar each time, but as I grow and mature on a spiritual level I seem to be able to go deeper and to understand more. I truly believe that Sai Baba can only be experienced. He cannot be analysed. Either you trust him totally or you don't. There is no halfway position. If you do trust and believe in him, then, there is no more to be said. When we will visit him again and what will happen then only God knows, but I'm sure that He will tell us when we need to know. In the meantime I have a book to write and a very happy and exciting life to live. May God grant me his grace and may all the beings in all the worlds be happy.