The following talk was given by David Jevons to an audience of Sai Baba devotees who were attending a Sai Summer Picnic held in Langley, British Columbia, Canada on Sunday July 9th 2000.  It has been edited but only for the purpose of reproducing it in this Newsletter.

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  THE CHALLENGE OF THE YEAR 2000

 As I look around this large gathering it’s lovely to see so many familiar faces looking back at me this morning.  I know that some of you have travelled long distances, even from other countries, in order to be here today.  Ann and I feel very humble in the face of such devotion.  I feel that this Sai family of which we are all a part is something that we should value very highly.  It’s true to say that wherever you are in the world, if you meet someone from this Sai family, then you know exactly how you are going to be treated, the human values that will be shared, the devotional path that will be followed.  We are truly one big global family, which rises above race, culture or creed and which is united in our love for Sai Baba and in our desire to help him with his divine mission.  So as Ann and I open our home to you today we do so in the certain knowledge that you would do the same for us.  After all, our home is not really our home, because we own nothing.  Everything belongs to God.  Ann and I are really not your hosts today.  God is the host and we are simply His facilitators.

  Here in British Columbia in the past we have been rather on the perimeter of world affairs, especially as far as the Sai Organisation was concerned.  This, of course, has both advantages and disadvantages. We were often the last to hear the latest news or rumours because of the time zone in which we live and because we are far removed from the world’s major communication centres.  On the other hand, what we didn’t hear about, we didn’t have to worry about, and so we could stay more focused on our goals.  Today, however, the Internet has changed all of that.  This Pandora’s box can spread information instantly to the four corners of the world.  Lies and rumours can be spread just as quickly as the truth.  So it is for us to exercise our powers of discrimination and good judgement as to what we read, where we go to read it and what we choose to believe as the truth.  It is because of what has been put out on the Internet that I know many Sai devotees have been going through a very difficult year, and I include Ann and myself in this number.  Many troubling stories about Sai Baba and the activities of the Sai Organisation have been circulating on the Internet from sources all over the world.  Web sites accusing Sai Baba of sexual misconduct and the Sai Organisation of financial wrong-doing have appeared and are being visited by thousands of people.  There has also been some negative press in several counties and a few critical television documentaries.  We are told that more are on the way.   How are we to handle all of this information, especially when challenged about it?

 I believe personally that these events are an essential part of the divine drama of life and, as such, are predestined.  About three years ago, when we were in an interview with Sai Baba, he suddenly volunteered the information to us that “A big scandal is coming” and that “When you come to the Ashram there will be three rooms available for anyone who wants one.”  We did not then understand to what he was referring, but perhaps it was to the events that are now unfolding in the world.  I believe personally that they constitute a gigantic leela or divine game which Sai Baba has initiated for two reasons.  Firstly, it is intended to test the faith of his devotees.  We all individually have to decide how we are going to respond to these stories.  Secondly, it is intended to make us examine the reality of the physical form, and of Sai Baba’s physical form in particular.  It is a fact, and I can tell you this from personal experience, that the closer you get to Sai Baba the more difficult the relationship becomes.  The closer you get to the fire, so to speak, the more likely you are to get burned.  I know of some of Sai Baba’s most ardent devotees who have never been to India, who have never seen or spoken to him, but who have absolute faith in the reality of who and what he is.  On the other hand those of us who have had a closer contact with Sai Baba have been forced to come to terms with the question of his form.  We feel the need to question and to analyse why he chooses to behave in a certain way, why he does what are to us inappropriate things, in spite of the fact that he has warned us “Never try to understand me”.

 We must be aware that Sai Baba, like us, is playing a role in this great drama of life.  He is not his body, just as we are not our bodies.  We are all actors playing roles.  We are all aspects of God, sparks of divine energy, that have chosen to take on physical form.  What is important is not the physical form but is the aspect of God, the atma, the spirit, that empowers that form.  I would like to read to you now something that Sai Baba said very recently. 

“Do not get deluded because I talk, laugh, eat and walk like you.  Do not get deluded by this body feeling.  All my action are always selfless, selfless, selfless.  There is no trace of selfishness in me at all.  Have firm faith in that truth.  If you have total faith wherever you are, all your desires will be fulfilled without you even asking.  Only those who don’t have total faith will suffer.  So develop self confidence.  That is the first spiritual discipline that you must follow.  You must undertake to follow this now. Liberation can be gained in this lifetime.  Millions know me.  Millions will come to me, but only a handful will obtain liberation.”

 That, incidentally, was Sai Baba speaking on Shivaratri this year.  He is clearly warning us not to get attached to his form and to the role that he is playing, a role which has one purpose and one purpose only, namely, to help us to gain liberation.  Some devotees, I know, have got some funny ideas about what constitutes liberation.  Some people feel that it’s a gift or a blessing which Sai Baba doles out for good behaviour rather like he gives out pieces of candy.  I always remember an incident that occurred during an interview with Sai Baba a few years ago.  He was going around the room asking people what they wanted.  He got to one lady and said “What do you want?” to which she rather glibly replied “Liberation, please, Swami.”  Sai Baba looked at her very sternly and said “Right now?”, implying “Are you prepared to die right now and to lose all soul identity?”  The woman hastily added “Well, not right now Swami, only when I am ready for it!”  Liberation has to be earned.  It has to be gained by self effort.  It is not a gift.  Liberation comes to us quite naturally as we release our attachments to the form and stop identifying with the ego-self.  The guru does not grant liberation.  He helps the devotee to attain it or, should I say, to recover it, because we are already liberated.  We have just forgotten that fact.  Sai Baba will do or say anything if it will help us to remember that fact.  He will even sacrifice himself, his name and his reputation if it will help us to achieve our goal. 

 Why do we find it so difficult to believe that we are not our bodies?  Why can we not accept that we are beings of pure spirit?  Why can we not change our programming and so release the firmly held beliefs of who and what we are?  I read an article by Dr. Deepak Chopra recently on Quantum Mechanical Modes, in which he noted that our physical bodies change completely every two and a half years.  Every cell in our body is replaced during that period.  So why is it, if every cell is renewed, that our bodies, remain diseased?  Why is it, for example, that if we have cancer cells in our bodies, when they die we replace them with cancer cells rather than with healthy cells?  It is because our programming is so strong, is so fixed, that we create cancer cells rather than healthy cells because that is what we believe we are.  It is just the same with the world around us.  We create our world by how we choose to experience it, which, in turn, is due to our programming.  Sai Baba is continually reminding us that we are not our bodies, that we should not get attached to our bodies and to his body in particular.  There was a devotee, a retired army officer, who lived in the ashram at Puttaparthi for many years after his wife had died.  He spent much time in close proximity to Sai Baba until one day, quite out of the blue, Sai Baba told him that he had to go and live in Madras.  He protested to Sai Baba that he didn’t want to go and live in Madras, but to no avail.  So he went to Madras, and being an elderly man, all alone, he was looked after by some Sai devotees there.  A few months later he died of cancer and the devotees who had looked after him came to Sai Baba and said “Swami, it was so unkind of you to send that old man to Madras, where he died alone.  He loved you so much.  Why would you do such a thing?”  Sai Baba replied “He was too close to me, he was too attached to my form, and he would not have obtained liberation unless I sent him away.”  So we have to realise that there is a danger in getting too attached to Sai Baba’s form, indeed, to any physical form.  A devotee that we know recently had a dream about Sai Baba, which he shared with us.  In this dream hundreds of devotees, all dressed in white, were walking down a road, filing past Sai Baba, but were paying no attention to his form.  Sai Baba was standing there smiling and was ushering them on with his hands, obviously very happy with this situation.

 We should not make any form into the purpose and the reason for our being, be it Sai Baba, a husband, a wife or a child.  We should identify only with God, not with any form of God.  Sai Baba himself has said that his body is not special.  Physical bodies come and go.  They are simply dust.  That is one of the symbologies of vibhuti.  We come from dust and we return to dust.  What we should identify with is the divinity in the body, the divine atma.  That is why Sai Baba cautions us to be aware of the divinity that is in his body.  That is what is so special about his body.  It is his divinity.  He tells us that we cannot even begin to imagine the reality of this divinity.  He has recently said that we will very soon witness this divine power manifesting in the world.  I quote from a recent discourse.  “Many events are going to take place very soon.  Many mega projects are going to come up.  The time is not far off when people will see me at different places at the same time.  I may be travelling in a car, but at the same time I shall be giving darshan at Sai Kulwant hall and at the same time I shall be speaking at the Hillview Stadium.”  This is Swami talking this year which, he says, marks the start of the Golden Age.  The Golden Age has now begun and, to use the plane analogy of which Sai Baba is so fond, the plane of liberation is taking off on his 75th birthday, which takes place on November 23rd 2000.  So this is a significant year for all devotees, because if we want to be on this cosmic plane, then we have to have a boarding pass!  It is apparent that a selection process will take place in order to decide who is going on that plane, and that selection process is not carried out by an outside force.  It will be done by our own selves, by how we behave in thought, word and deed.

 How many of you were present in Vancouver last year when Indulal Shah, the president of the World Sai Organisation came and spoke to us.  He brought with him a personal message from Sai Baba which he passed on to us under the heading of ‘Swami’s final instructions’.  Now why would Sai Baba choose these particular words?  ‘Final instructions’ - final before what?  In this personal message Sai Baba made some quite amazing statements such as “Do not concern yourselves with what I said before 1996.  Do not become devotees of my form, become devotees of my teachings.  Do not worship my form or the form of any past avatars.  Get rid of all the photographs of me and the statues of deities on your altars.”  It is apparent that Sai Baba is trying to bring about a shift in the way we relate to him and, indeed, to all avatars.  He wants us to go beyond the physical form.  Now it is not without significance that Ann and I have both been going through this difficult process, only in very different ways.  For the past five years Sai Baba has been weaning Ann off his form, to which she had become very attached.  We’ve been privileged to have a close relationship with Sai Baba.  He knows our faces and the faces of our children and he has spoken to us on many occasions in the past.  So when you go to darshan day after day after day only to have him totally ignore you, you can feel very hurt.  You begin to say to yourself “What have I done?  Why isn’t he looking at me?  Does he not recognise me?  Does he not know who I am?  Does he not know that I am here?  Am I no longer worthy of his attention?”  You begin to plead for a look, a smile, some token of acknowledgement, just to satisfy your ego.  You begin to bargain, saying “Swami if you acknowledge my presence then I will do this for you or I will give up this for you!”  But it is all to no avail.  The process goes on and on, and in our case, right up until the very last minute.  On one three week visit Sai Baba kept Ann waiting right up until the day she was leaving before he spoke to her, saying with feigned surprise “Ah, you are here”, as if he didn’t know! 

 Now I was feeling a little smug about this weaning process, because I’m not really attracted to Sai Baba’s form and being weaned off it didn’t constitute a real test for me.  My comeuppance, however, came this year.  As I began to read all the negative stories about Sai Baba on the Internet, my faith was absolutely shaken to its roots.  My mind was in a turmoil as I ignored my own experiences and started to believe the experiences of other people.  Then, one day, it dawned on me that I wasn’t attracted to Sai Baba’s form, as was the case with Ann, I was attracted to how I thought his form should behave.  If Sai Baba acted in a way which I thought to be inappropriate, then I suffered from doubts and fears and questioned my belief in the fact that he was an avatar.  I was attached to how I thought he should behave.  I had to continually remind myself of Sai Baba’s warning “Never try to understand me.”  We will never understand why Sai Baba acts as he does, if only because he operates beyond time and space.  He sees past, present and future.  His relationship with us is not based on our physical identities of this life, but on our total destiny path.  So Ann and I have both been going through a difficult period of going beyond the form and of identifying with the God that’s in us rather than in any external manifestation of God.

 When I was in India for the celebration of Sai Baba’s 70th birthday I had a wonderful experience which brought this truth home to me in a very personal way.  It was the occasion of my 60th birthday and I felt, because I had a close relationship with Sai Baba, that he would do something really special for me on that day.  I had read in a book about a little ritual that Sai Baba did for some devotees on such a significant birthday.  Well, of course, you can guess what happened.  I was in the front row of darshan, full of expectations that I would be blessed, and Sai Baba came in and walked by on the other side, totally ignoring me.  I might just as well have not been there.  The form was ignoring the form and I was very disappointed.  My ego quickly raised its ugly head and said “Swami how could you do this to ME!!”, as if the ME was important!  I walked out of darshan to find that my sandals had been stolen yet again.  This was the third pair that had gone missing on this trip.  I don’t know what it is about my sandals, about why they get stolen, because I have size 13 feet and no Indian that I know has feet that size!  Anyway, a short time later, I found myself walking down the high street of Puttaparthi to go to a cobbler that I knew, who would make me a new pair of sandals.  I was walking down the busy street, just minding my own business, when suddenly I noticed a Caucasian male walking straight towards me.  Now I’d never seen this person before in my whole life, but as he came close to me I did notice that around his neck was the identifying scarf of a group from The Netherlands.  He stopped in front of me, grasped both my shoulders firmly with his hands, looked me in the eyes and in a beautiful loving voice said in perfect English “Don’t you know that Swami loves you very much.”  He then released his hold on me and walked on.  I stood there dumbfounded.  I was overcome with many emotions and tears welled up in my eyes.  I know for certain that that man was Sai Baba.  He was showing me that the omnipresent God is everywhere.  Moreover, at the end of our last interview on that trip, as we walked out of the interview room Sai Baba looked at Ann very deeply and said “Remember, I am always with you.  I am always with you!”  The ‘I am’ is always with us. That is the message that we have to understand.  This omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient Force that we call God is always with us.  If you think that when you leave Puttaparthi you are leaving Sai Baba, then you haven’t even begun to understand the truth of what he’s teaching us.  The omnipresent aspect of Sai Baba is as much here to-day, now, sitting in this building, as it is sitting in the ashram in India.  There is no place in the whole cosmos where God is not present. 

 Many of us, I know, have trouble identifying with the force of spirit within us, our atma.  We ask ourselves “Where is it?  What is it?  How do I know when I am in contact with it?”.  I would like to read to you now an excerpt from a wonderful article which describes someone’s experience of this reality.  We say that we are God, that we are no different from God, because Sai Baba has told us this, but do we really believe this?  Do we act out of this belief?  Very few of us have had a near death experience, when we have been thrown out of our bodies and been forced to realise our true identity.  I would like to tell you of the experience of one man who has!  Incidentally this story is related by a doctor.  

Sometime people stumble upon the experience of God accidentally.  I had a patient a couple of years ago, who was repairing an antenna on a neighbour’s roof when he quite accidentally picked up a piece of wire, which he thought was a dead wire but in fact it had 12,000 volts of electricity flowing through it.  So as soon as he touched it he died.  How do you die?  12,000 volts of electricity going through your heart causes a phenomenon called ventricular fibrillation.  So he fell from the roof to the ground about 15 - 20 feet below but, as luck would have it, he fell on his chest at the precise angle, at the precise location, with the precise impact to start another current to defibrillate him.  It was an extraordinary thing, as if God called him and then suddenly changed His mind.  All this took place in a few seconds.  This man was being transported from the scene of the accident to the hospital and he says “My mind kept going back to this gap”.  He called this little incident, this interval of time when he was dead, ‘the gap’.  They say “Well, what was there in the gap?”  He said “There was pure unbounded joy.  It was absolute bliss.”  And they say “You were aware?”  He said “Oh yes, I was aware.”  They asked him “What were you aware of?”   He said “I was aware that I was aware.”  They say “Can you be more specific?  You were aware that you were aware.  What does that mean?”  He says “Yes.  It was pure wakefulness.  The only thing I could say is:  I am.  I am not this or that.  I just am.  It was the experience of my own immortality.  It was the experience of eternity.  It was the experience of bliss.  It was the experience of pure joy.  I was so grounded in that experience that I realised that everything else was a concept.  And once and for all, entirely and totally, I got rid of that experience that people call fear.

 I think that that is a wonderful description of the true state of our being and, in part, describes the reality of the atma.  It’s hard to realise, firstly, that this reality is within us the whole time and that our natural state is one of unbounded joy, bliss, peace and  tranquillity and, secondly, that this reality is the reality of God.  Someone once complained to Sai Baba that  it is so easy to say “I am God” but so difficult to know it and to live it.  In response Sai Baba picked up his handkerchief and just dropped it, saying, “It’s as easy as letting go of this handkerchief.  If you did but know it, it takes more energy to hold on to your ego than to let it go.”  This is the reality.  We have to fight so hard to establish and maintain our ego identity, the person who we think we are, our name, our fame, our wealth, our culture, our education, our position in society, which will all disappear when we die.  So why do we attach so much value to them?  Why does life become a battle of egos with one ego facing off against another ego?  Why is our opinion so much more important than someone else’s opinion?  If we are all One with God, then where is this separation but in our minds.  It is not real.  It is an illusion. 

 I would like to give you another interesting example of this ‘oneness’.  About six months ago I had a dream about this riding arena in which we are sitting today.  I guess the dream is either symbolic or it refers to some time in the future.  In my dream this arena was full of people sitting on the ground, just like you are today, but it was serving as a shelter and as a canteen because we were feeding people.  Outside the building a severe storm was raging, or some other kind of natural disaster.  We were acting as a rescue centre.  I thought that that was an unusual if interesting dream, but I kept it to myself as it was a little apocalyptic in nature and I don’t like to talk about such events as it creates fear in some people.  However two weeks ago Marina, a dear Sai devotee friend of ours, came to see me and said “I want to share a dream with you that I had quite recently, the more so since you were in it.”  She then went on to relate the same dream that I had had six months earlier.  So it is apparent that when God builds a building he builds it for more than one purpose.  Outwardly we are sitting in a riding arena, built to satisfy my wife’s need to ride her horses in the dry during our wet B.C. winters, but if the dreams are accurate it would appear that this building has another purpose as is also evident today.

 Sai Baba says that we are God, that we are no different from God and, as such, we can create whatever we desire.  We can do whatever we want to do.  We can be whatever we want to be.  We can programme ourselves to do or to be whatever we want to do or to be.  We are no different from God.  We possess all the powers of God, only we are suffering from amnesia!  We’ve forgotten that one important fact.  Of course we have eternity in which to rediscover that fact, nevertheless, physical time does play a role in the drama.  Remember the analogy that Sai Baba uses of the plane taking off.  If we want to be on that plane of liberation, then we have to start preparing in the little time that remains to us.  We have to reprogram ourselves, to follow the disciplines that Sai Baba has given us, to live dharmically, to purify our bodies and minds, to prepare for the great events that are coming, events that are “more glorious than you can ever imagine”.  Listen to Sai Baba’s words again.

“You as body, mind or soul are a dream, but what you really are is pure existence, knowledge and bliss.  You are the God of this Universe.  You are creating this whole universe and are drawing it in.  To gain the infinite, the miserable little prison of individuality must go.  Follow the heart.  A pure heart seeks beyond the intellect.  It gets inspired.  Within you is the mighty ocean of nectar divine.  Seek it within you.  Feel it.  Feel it!  It is here, the Self.  It is not the body, the mind, the intellect.  All  these are simply manifestations of it.  Above all these is you.  You appear as the smiling flowers, as the twinkling stars.  What is there in this world which can make you desire anything?”

 What magical and meaningful words those are.  What can you desire more than that? That is the true nature of our reality.  We are the God of this Universe.  Sai Baba says that Man’s original sin was to forget that fact, was to believe that he was separate from God.  That is why he says -

“You are God!  You are God!  You are not the ego.  You are the atma.  You are the self.  You are permanent.  The physical body is not permanent.  The physical is not the Self.  You are the Self, not the physical.  You are God.  You are God.  Think like this always.   Do not think about your body.  Think about God.  The body comes and goes.  For the body there is birth and death, but you are not the body.  The body is just rust and dust.  You are eternal.”

 How many times does Sai Baba have to say this before we to listen to him and start to investigate the true nature of our reality.  One of the little games that I play, which helps me to do this, is to always imagine that God is sitting on my shoulder.  Wherever I go, whatever I do, I’m aware that God is there constantly watching everything that I’m thinking, saying or doing.  If I am faced with a decision to make, how to act appropriately in a certain situation, after I have decided how I am going to act, then I ask the God that is sitting on my shoulder whether what I intend to do is correct and appropriate.  Almost immediately I find that the God on my shoulder which is, in reality, my conscience, will respond saying “Yes” or “No.”  If the voice says “No” then I re-evaluate my action.  Of course there are many times when I forget to do this but, even so, the God on the shoulder concept is good for evaluating actions that we have taken earlier as a matter of reflex.

 One of the many things that I have learned from my relationship with Sai Baba is that he is a perfect mirror.  He reflects back to us exactly what we are, what we want to hear from him.  This can obviously lead to confusion, especially in the interview room, when he says different things to different people.  If devotees’ reports are to be believed, then Sai Baba has appeared to make conflicting statements about, for example, whether or not Jesus died on the cross, whether space beings and UFOs are real, whether the Earth Changes and the so called cataclysm are going to take place.  It’s this apparent confusion that leads some people to think that he does not know what he is saying, which is absolutely ridiculous.  He knows exactly what he is saying and, more importantly, to whom he is saying it.  The difference lies in the fact that he is reflecting back to the person concerned exactly what they want to hear.  He is a mirror to you.  Big misunderstandings can happen when people go to Sai Baba and say, for example, “Swami can I marry so and so?”  Sai Baba will say “Yes, yes, I bless” but then the marriage does not work out at all and they blame Sai Baba for it.  One has to be very careful when asking questions of an avatar.  The question should always be “Should I” or “Is it in my destiny to” rather than “Can I”!  I personally believe that Sai Baba will always give us what we want, even if it is not appropriate for us, if he thinks that it will help us to get over it, to release our desires and attachments to it and to advance more quickly along the royal road to liberation.  Sai Baba has said “I give you what you want, so that you will want what I have come to give.”  So always be very careful in your relationship with Sai Baba, especially when in the interview room.  I regularly find, after Sai Baba has said something that is controversial in the interview room, that when we compare notes afterwards we have all placed very different interpretations on what he actually said.

 Most of us will go through three stages on the road to liberation, which have been defined as Dualism (Dvaita), Qualified Dualism (Vishishtadvaita) and Non-Dualism (Advaita).   We begin by seeing ourselves as totally separate from God.  God is the all powerful Creator, a perfect being living far removed from us in Heaven.. That is why we worship Him.  Then we progress to the stage when we establish a relationship with God, when we still see Him as separate but also as part of our family and directly concerned with our welfare and spiritual advancement.   Many devotees who worship Sai Baba as God are at this stage.  The final stage is when we realise that we are one with God, that there is no separation between us at all.  All self-identity is an illusion.  There never was any separation and there never will be.  This is the great step in consciousness that we have to take.  This is the great step that Sai Baba is asking us to take right now.  The plane of liberation is about to take off.  Sai Baba is asking us to be on that plane.  Now that doesn’t mean that we have to be out in Puttaparthi in order to board that plane.  It means that we have to have become non-dualistic in our daily lives.  We have to have realised that all is one, that all is God and that the energy of God is love.  May we all regard this as our primary task in life.  For here on the Earth is the avatar of the Age.  We are privileged to be here in incarnation at this time.  Sai Baba has said that in years to come our photographs will be on the walls of our grandchildren and they will honour and revere us for our knowledge of and our contact with this great avatar.  They will say that there was someone who knew Sai Baba.  You will be remembered for that contact.  May we all be worthy of this birth.  May we accept the challenge and try to board the plane of liberation.  At the same time may we be conscious of Sai Baba’s warning.  “Millions know me.  Millions will come to me, but only a handful will obtain liberation.”  May we all be in that handful.  How can we ensure that this will be so.  It is so simple.  Love all.  Serve all.  See the God in everyone and everything.